Friday, July 10, 2009

Critical Period for ISU Basketball Begins

Idaho State will turn over more than half its men's basketball roster next year, and the grunt work for finding new players kicked into high gear this week, with the beginning of the first July "evaluation period. " That's NCAA speak for the period of July 6-15, when coaches can watch potential recruits at the various AAU tournaments scattered across the country.

Idaho State head coach Joe O'Brien (above) and his two assistants, Tim Walsh and Geoff Alexander, are heading off to places like Tulsa and Memphis to watch loose-knit collections of high school kids playing for AAU clubs under volunteer coaches with teammates they may have just met. It's a very difficult environment in which to evaluate how a 17-year-old's talents and temperment will translate to a much more structured and competitive team environment at the collegiate level. Nonetheless, the summer AAU tournaments have become much more important in the recruiting process over the years, and college coaches have no choice but to dive in and take part.

ISU coaches will also evalute players at events set up to showcase junior college players. Then, after a "dead period" from July 16-21, the three Bengal coaches will gather in Las Vegas and Southern California for more AAU action. Throughout the period, they will be comparing notes on players each has seen at their various stops, and making decisions about which potential recruits to focus on.

The Bengals have to be particularly precise in their evaluations this year, because they are looking to bring in as many as eight players and they are limited by NCAA regulations to just 13 on-campus visits. That means the coaches have to really hone in early on players they believe will fit ISU's needs -- and who are really serious about possibly committing to the Idaho State program. The critical on-campus visits can begin Sept. 5, with the early signing period running from Nov. 11 to Nov. 18.

O'Brien has said he hopes to fill about half of those open scholarships during the early signing period, and the other half in the spring. There also remains the possibility he will add another player for the upcoming season. He's still evaluating a couple of potential late recruits, but says he won't take another player just to add a body.

Rolando Little Update

Little, an athletic 6-9 forward who sat out last season as a walk-on at Idaho State, is still progressing toward getting eligible for next season. The Memphis native needs to complete two correspondence courses this summer in order to be eligible for next season, after passing an incredible academic load this past year. Because he walked on without scholarship aid, his family has had to pay a lot of money in out-of-state tuition during that time period.

Little, who has just one year of eligibility left, offers a skill set somewhat reminiscient of former Bengal Slim Millien: he is a big time leaper who can rebound and block shots. He probably doesn't offer the same offensive capabilities as Slim, who was a consistent double-figure scorer. In his last year in junior college, Little averaged about 18 minutes a game, made 65 percent of his field goals, 48 percent of his free throws and attempted only one three-pointer, which he missed. He grabbed five rebounds a game, blocked 36 shots and averaged 7.3 points per game. His assist-to-turnover ratio was a none-too-shiny 12 to 36.

So Little would be a decidely mixed bag if he succeeds in getting eligible, but he definitely offers an athleticism that will be exciting for Bengal fans. What remains to be seen is if he's more disciplined defensively than Slim was. ISU fans will recall the pained look on former Bengal coach Doug Oliver's face brought about by Millien's occasional "matador" approach on the defensive end of the floor.

Speaking of Recruiting

Eastern Washington recently announced the addition of five new men's basketball recruits -- which is noteworthy only because they had already announced the signing of four new players earlier -- but only one of those four managed to get academically eligible. Most Big Sky programs have to take occasional chances on players with risky academic profiles, but losing three-fourths of your commitments indicates EWU's Kirk Earlywine may be in desperation mode.

Congrats to Former Bengal Wrestler

Four-time Big Sky champion John Berry recently earned a spot in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame after receiving the Lifetime Service Award from the Idaho Chapter. Berry coached Idaho high school wrestling for 33 years, including 30 at Sugar-Salem, where he won 10 state championships. Berry, who grew up in Driggs, wrestled at Idaho State from 1969 to 1973, and was elected to the Idaho State Athletic Hall of Fame in 1984.

If I ever win the Powerball drawing, I'm going to give Idaho State a million bucks to restart its wrestling program. You could easily fill a roster with outstanding Idaho high school wrestlers and be immediately competitive with the few western schools that are still sponsoring the sport. I understand and appreciate what Title IX has done for the growth of women's athletics at Idaho State and around the country, but one of the true tragedies has been its impact on collegiate wrestling programs.

--Brad B.

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

Why Baseball Absolutely Rocks

Most folks around here know that I'm a pretty big baseball geek...I subscribe here for goodness sake, and I went highbrow with the HD package (it's a great way to work....a little day baseball love in the office is always fun). Anyways, what I love about baseball is the fact that you can see things that just boggle the mind. I mean this is a sport where the Philadelphia Phillies won the 2009 World Series on October 29, but officially, they won it on October 27 because that's when the game started and was suspended due to rain.

So I present to you the Washington Nationals, who have had some slight problems this year, and that doesn't count how bad they play. They apparently don't have a good seamstress, a good spellchecker or two even, and they can't even tell which way is up, whether it be a letter (upside down N), or a number (upside-down 8, note the beveling). Usually by the way, it's a 9 flipped to a 6 or vice-versa, so credit the Nats with a bonus of goofing up the 8.

Anyways, ,why I love baseball. On May 5, the Houston Astros visited the Washington Nationals, and in the game was tied at 10 after 10 innings. Washington's Joel Hanrahan got Houston out in the top of the 11th, and in the bottom half, Houston's LaTroy Hawkins got an out before Elijah Dukes walked. Then the rains came....and came, and came, and never stopped. So they suspended the game, but since Houston doesn't visit Washington anymore, it was decided they will finish the game in Houston on July 9.

Here is where the fun starts. They resumed the game yesterday in Houston, but Washington traded Joel Hanrahan (and Lastings Milledge) to Pittsburgh for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett. And what of Elijah Dukes, who was at first base when the game was suspended? Well....Mr. Dukes is currently in Syracuse in Triple-A. So, when play resumed yesterday, Morgan, who was in Pittsburgh and went 1-for-5 against Milwaukee on May 5, pinch ran at first base, thereby getting credited with playing for two different teams in two different cities in the same day, ala Joel Youngblood back in 1982, who actually did play in two games in two different cities for two different teams in the same day.

Anyways, Morgan ended up scoring in the 11th of the resumed game, finishing that in just seven minutes. The winning pitcher was Joel Hanrahan, who at the time he got the win, was taking a a member of the Pittsburgh a Philadelphia. Hanrahan's Pirates you see didn't play yesterday, and he was tired from the travel to Philly, so he was napping when he got the win, and didn't find out about it until some of his ex-National teammates texted him afterwards.

To sum up: the Nationals defeated Astros in a game started in Washington, ended in Houston, with the winning run scored by someone who started the game for Pittsburgh, and was won by someone sleeping in Philadelphia. Of course, it's justice for the Nationals, who started the week by losing 5-4 to the Colorado Rockies, allowing Rockies pitcher Alan Embree to earn the win without ever throwing a pitch, and no, I didn't make that up.

All of this to say, ladies and gentlemen, your 2009 Washington Nationals! To think, we aren't at the all-star break yet.

Here is the box score for all that wackiness.

Speaking of baseball
My Marlins woke up just in time to take down Arizona.

Almost as good as Ivory Soap.
Ivory soap is boasted as being 99 44/100% pure. That's almost the season ticket retention rate at Oklahoma. At least it will have cooled down by then in that state....geez....115 degrees? Seriously....

For those paying attention, Brad Bugger's series on ISU's football opponents are must reads...great stuff.exactly the type of stuff that can't really go on ISU's official website, but is perfect for the blog. Well, well, well done Bradley!

News coming down the pike
I'm going camping next week (and looking forward to no computer doncha know), so I won't be around. However, once I get back, it should be very fun with some good announcements, probably starting the Monday I get back, and of the two, one is a direct boon to a major sport, and one is a direct boon to you the fans. I'm giddy....more around the week of July 20th or so. Sorry I can't say more yet.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Looking Ahead Week 4: Central Washington

Forget the high profile games against Arizona State and Oklahoma, or the Big Sky Conference opener against rival Weber State: the most important game of Idaho State's football season comes against Division II Central Washington in week four. It will be the Bengals' home opener after what could be a brutal three-game road trip to start the season. It may be Idaho State's best chance for a win all season. And it matches up Bengal Head Coach John Zamberlin against a program he helped build into a powerhouse, in a game with real recruiting implications.

With the demise of Western Washington's program, Central remains the last D-II team in the state of Washington. The Wildcats took advantage of that distinction to sign 36 players from the Evergreen State this spring, including four players who got offers from Big Sky schools. With Zamberlin's Washington roots, Idaho State has taken several Washington athletes in his first three recruiting classes. Not only is he competing with fellow Big Sky program Eastern Washington for players, but also CWU and Washington State, where former Portland State coach Paul Wulff has taken several players who would have fallen to Big Sky programs in years past. A loss to CWU at this stage in the Zamberlin program would certainly send the wrong message to Washington recruits.

The outlook for the Central Washington season is clearly mixed. On the positive side: the Wildcats return 15 starters from a team that went 10-2 under first-year Coach Blaine Bennett, and qualified for the D-II playoffs for the second year in a row. Among those returnees are All-American wide receiver Johnny Spevak, who caught 91 passes for 20 touchdowns last year; and playmaking safety Jerome Williams (above), a 6-2, 212-pound senior who had five interceptions and 10 passes defended. On the negative side, the Wildcats lose two key pieces from an offense that put up 42 points and 424 yards a game: All-American quarterback Mike Reilly, who signed with the Steelers as a free agent after throwing 37 touchdowns vs. just 6 picks last year; and tight end Jared Bronson, who caught 28 balls for six touchdowns last season, then signed a free agent deal with the Dolphins.

The loss of Reilly and Bronson might not be as much of a concern if the Wildcats posed a bigger defensive presence. But CWU did not field a dominating defense last year, giving up 24 or more points six times. The Wildcats won a 44-38 overtime shoot-out over Dixie State, beat Western Oregon 31-24, lost at Montana 38-35, edged Western Oregon 38-31 and fell in the first round of the playoffs to West Texas A&M, 49-42. In addition to safety Williams, the Wildcats return leading tackler Buddy Wood and Adam Bighill, who had five picks, at linebacker; and five players who recorded at least 4.5 sacks last season, including Tyrell Nielsen and Ryan Dyer, who led with 7.5 apiece.

The Wildcats made up for a lack of physical dominance on defense by making game-changing plays -- they were plus-15 in turnovers, and registered 39 sacks while giving up only 18. You can give up a lot of yards and points when you're making that many big plays.

Still, the big question for Bennett and his CWU staff must be who will replace Reilly at the helm of their high-powered passing game. That passing game is key to the success of the Wildcats, whose longest run from scrimmage came from quarterback Reilly last year, and whose leading rusher registered only 500 yards in 12 contests. Redshirt freshman Ryan Robertson was the most impressive of the quarterback contenders in the spring game, completing 10 of 16 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. Whoever wins the starting job will have the weight of the program on their backs.

The Wildcats will be playing their fifth game when they come to Pocatello on Sept. 26, including road games at Mesa State and Minnesota Duluth, and home contests against the same West Texas A&M program that eliminated them from the playoffs last year and Azusa Pacific.

Idaho State, meanwhile, will likely have to take a major gut check, both emotionally and physically, after that insane three-game stretch to open the season. How beat up will Idaho State be physically? And how much fight will the Bengals have in them after three weeks on the road against teams that will be prohibitive favorites? I think it's fair to say that this game will be one of the biggest tests of John Zamberlin's tenure at Idaho State.

--Brad B.

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