Dick Harmon: Pac-12 hoops struggles are shared burden, solution

Published: Wednesday, March 21 2012 7:16 p.m. MDT

University of Utah's Head coach Larry Krystkowiak stares at the floor as a time out is called as Utah and the Cal Bears play Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 in the Huntsman Center.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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It's no big news Pac-12 basketball has underachieved in recent years.

The reasons are many.

Utah's issues are not exclusive, nor on an island. Many schools in the league are fighting the same battle, which may give Utah an even playing field to launch from as Larry Krystkowiak puts this past season in his rearview mirror.

In a bad news year, this could be good for Utah if taken advantage of very soon.

Southern Cal just had three players ask for releases, including 6-foot-2 guard Alexis Moore, 6-10 forward Curtis Washington and Garrett Jackson, who started the last 14 games for the 6-26 team.

Arizona State just had the 12th player transfer from Tempe in the last four seasons. Three in the "ask for a release" category in recent weeks include leading scorer Trent Lockett, 6-7 freshman Kyle Cain and Chanse Creekmur. Lockett's decision was based on a family illness and he needs to move closer to home in Minnesota.

At UCLA, the Bruins will lose Brendan Lane, who played 33 games last year and 19 games this year. This comes on the heels of losing Matt Carlino to BYU, Mike Moser and Chace Stanback to UNLV and Drew Gordon to New Mexico. Since 2008, this Pac-12 traditional power has lost 11 players to the NBA, to transfers or to dismissals.

At Arizona, a historic rock solid basketball program, Sidiki Johnson will leave for Providence after being suspended during a road trip back in December. Point guard Josiah Turner was suspended before the Pac-12 tournament and NIT game with Bucknell and Kevin Parrom used this season to recover from a gunshot wound suffered in September.

Utah announced freshman guard Anthony Odunsi from Fort Bend, Texas, has been granted a release and he could be one of several that leave the Utah camp as Krystkowiak makes room for his own recruits.

Players ask for releases for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes they get chased off the program by coaches. Scholarships are only good for a year at a time. Many times players get discouraged over their roles, playing time or don't buy into a system or just didn't fit.

Regardless, a good chunk of the Pac-12 is experiencing a lot of this and it has impacted programs.

Other issues involve losing underclassmen to the NBA draft. Some have mentioned the Pac-12's old TV contract, which will be tons better this coming season, has diminished the league's exposure to recruits.

A third reason given by some experts for the downturn in Pac-12 hoops is that California simply isn't producing the talent it once did like Andre Miller and Keith Van Horn or Bill Walton, Reggie Miller and Jason Kidd. As pointed out by the San Jose Mercury News, the state of California — a feeding ground for recruits — didn't produce a McDonald's All-American in either 2010 or 2011.

The downturn in the Pac-12 has been noticeable. The league was absent from the AP Top 25 rankings for 14 consecutive weeks and was 1-29 in non-conference games against teams ranked in the top 50 RPI heading into its tournament in Los Angeles.

While the Pac-12 got four NCAA tournament bids last year, it received only two this year in Cal and Colorado. You have only to look back to 2009 when the league had six NCAA bids for the third-straight year to see the fall line.

When the regular season champion, Washington, didn't get in the NCAA tournament when bids were announced more than a week ago, it was the first time in recent memory that a major conference received such a snub.

Coaching changes haven't helped.

Utah's situation has lacked consistency since the dismissal of Ray Giacoletti, the experiment with Jim Boylen and the effort now to get the ship righted with Krystkowiak.

After Lute Olson left Arizona, continuity in Tucson ended. NCAA violations finished USC's roll of the dice with Tim Floyd. Washington State appeared on solid ground before Tony Bennett left.

Pac-12 hoops is down. It might be cyclic, a dry spot, a bump in the freeway.

The remedy is only a couple of hot recruits away for any of these programs if they can maintain coaching stability.

At this stage of the game, that is why the NJCAA tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., looms so big for recruiters this week.

Quick fixes.

The race begins.

email: dharmon@desnews.com

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