2009 Big 12 Men's Basketball Media Day Coverage
David Boyce, a 1988 graduate of the University of Kansas, spent 21 years at the Kansas City Star covering high schools, colleges, boxing and the Royals. Boyce has covered the last five NCAA Division II championship football games in Florence, Ala. In the 1990s he covered boxer Tommy Morrision and his championship bout against George Foreman. In the previous two years he has helped cover Kansas and Kansas State basketball.
The one theme that came out of Big 12 men's basketball media day is the conference is going to be tough. It means there are going to be some great games in January through February. Even though Kansas and Texas are the favorites to finish at the top, there will be some surprises.
One thing is clear, the Big 12 should have at least one team in the Final Four and maybe more.
The last thing K-State senior Chris Merriewether wants to do on Selection Sunday is sitting around wondering if the Wildcats are going to make the NCAA Tournament. He compared that helpless feeling to waiting for lottery numbers to come up.
To avoid it, he said, the Wildcats must take care of business every month of the season.
"That means not cutting corners," Merriewether said. "The Big 12 is a very tough conference. You can go out and play your best and still come up short."
Baylor senior Tweety Carter said the one thing about the Big 12 Conference is you got to come out every game ready to play.
"No team," Carter said, "is guaranteed a win. You got to come out and take it. That's the biggest thing about the Big 12, being able to compete every night."
Carter said he likes what he sees from the new players at Baylor.
"They have come in and worked hard and are willing to learn and be apart of this team," Carter said.
Missouri senior J.T. Tiller understands that the Tigers reaching the Elite Eight last year didn't come because of luck. It was hard work.
"We know how hard we have to work and what we have to do to get back to what we did last year," Tiller said. "We got to work even harder."
Even though Missouri was picked seventh in the Big 12, the Tigers' success last year means they won't be catching anybody by surprise.
"They know when they play Missouri they have to be ready for a certain type of game," Tiller said.
When Big 12 play begins in January just about every time Texas A&M 6-9 forward Bryand Davis steps on the court he will be battling somebody who might be a NBA player next year. Davis enjoys the challenge.
"I think the Big 12 is the best conference in the country," Davis said. "There are no rollovers. You get the same competition from the top five teams as you do from the teams on the lower end.
"I'd rather face a team that is going to challenge me every play because if you face an easy team, you might not go out there the right way and you start bad habits."
As the preseason favorite, Kansas coach Bill Self and his players garnered the most attention at Big 12 media day. They were surrounded by reporters throughout their media session.
The excitement is understandable since some are calling the Jayhawks the favorite to win a national championship. But are the Jayhawks as talented as they were in 2009 when they won it all?
"I don't think this team is as talented," Self said. You had five players who are in the NBA plus Sherron and Cole. That's seven players. We have three or four players that emerge into that."
Sherron Collins said the excitement level about what the Jayhawks can accomplish this season is about the same as it was when they won the championship in 2009.
One thing that will make the Big 12 Conference so tough is the number of players who decided to stay instead of turning pro.
Iowa State 6-10 sophomore Craig Brackins is one of those players. He is coming off an All-Big 12 First Team season. Brackins plans on being more vocal this season.
"I've always tried to lead by example," he said.
Iowa State junior guard Diante Garrett was happy to see Brackins return.
"It helps us out a whole lot," Garrett said. "It put a big smile on a lot of faces."
Brackins is not the only one to spurn the one-and-done tag. Oklahoma guard Willie Warren returned. He was a unanimous pick for conference freshmen of the year.
"I love playing for coach Capel," Warren said. "I felt I wasn't ready. I get to be one of the faces of this team. It's a great opportunity that not everybody gets."
It says a lot about the quality of coaching and the programs in the Big 12 that players are opting to stay for another year to polish their games instead of jumping into the unknown world of professional basketball.
Martin said last year Pullen and Clemente grew tremendously as players.
"They made their personality grow on the basketball team," Martin said.
Kansas State coach Frank Martin said now he has a core of players who understand how difficult it is to win. Players like junior Jacob Pullen and senior Denis Clemente are now in position to show the incoming freshmen what it takes to win.
Iowa State has a difficult non-conference schedule, playing at Cal and against Duke. McDermott beclieves he has the team to handle a challenging non-conference schedule.
Beginning the season with returning players with experience is luxury Iowa State coach Greg McDermott hasn't had until this season. He sees the difference that makes in practice.
The opening of a new practice facility has also given the program a boost.
But the biggest thing for the Cyclones is the return of junior forward Craig Brackins. McDermott said Brackins' return has created a lot of excitement.
Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon wasn't able to make the Big 12 media day because of illness.
Oklahoma State Travis Ford figures he has the youngest team in the Big 12. Even though he has brought in seven new players, he's not calling this a rebuilding season.
"I like the balance we have with the new guys and the returning players," Ford said. "But when you lose a four-year starter like Byron Eaton, you are not going to replace him overnight."
Texas Tech Pat Knight said this is his most talented and most athletic team he's had since he's been at Texas Tech.
"We can actually play defense now," Knight said. "For me it's nice. We can get back to playing man-to-man defense."
Sadler said he felt great, but his voice was raspy. The print media showed some mercy and didn't ask Sadler a lot of questions.
Freshman Brandon Ubel is good enough to start if games started today. Ubel has worked with former NBA player Scott Wedman.
Nebraska coach Doc Sadler likes the fact that the Cornhuskers will have some size - 6-11 freshman Brian Diaz.
Mike Anderson said his team will be unpredictable. The Tigers might have as many as four go-to players.
Look for senior guards J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor to be the new leaders on the team.
Missouri coach Mike Anderson wants his returners to take the feeling of what took place last year and bring it into this year.
"This is a new team that has to find its identity," Anderson said. "But the brand won't change."
Anderson promises that the Tigers will still be the fastest 40 minutes around.
Rick Barnes said if the Big 12 is not the best conference in the country, it should be in the conversation.
Senior center Dexter Pittman no longer has a weight issue. Barnes said the other day Pittman weighed 281 pounds, which is about a 100-pound weight loss.
Texas senior Justin Mason is the type of player coach Rick Barnes loves having on his team. Beyond being one of the hardest workers he's ever had, Mason is a team player. He's mentoring freshmen Avery Bradley and Jordan Hamilton, players who can potentially take minutes away from him.
"He's a team guy," Barnes said.
It is very believable when Bzdelik said his team will be better. The Buffaloes went 1-15 in the Big 12 Conference. The return of junior Cory Higgins and senior Dwight Thorne II will automatically make the Buffaloes better. They learned some tough lessons last year. Colorado will need their leadership.
Bzdelik said freshman guard Alec Burks will surprise some people. Burks has grown 3 inches since high school and is now listed at 6-6.
Colorado coach Jeff Bzdelik said last year his team wasn't deep enough, strong enough or mature enough. It's a bad combination to have in the Big 12. Bzdelik said they have added depth and their young players have gained experience.
"We will be better," Bzdelik said.
Oklahoma has the potential to be a very exciting team to watch. Willie Warren showed last year that he is a dynamic player. The addition of 5-11 freshman guard Tommy Mason-Griffin and 6-9 forward Tiny Gallon could help make up for the loss of Blake Griffin. Expect the Sooners to play a slightly different style from last year when they could pound the ball inside to Griffin.
Without Blake Griffin, Oklahoma doesn't have a large margin of error. That means, Capel said, the players will need to rely on each other more.
Willie Warren looks different, said Capel. "I like the way he has matured. I think he's going to have a big year for us," Capel said.
Capel said there is a great freshman class coming into the Big 12 this season.
Capel said freshman guard Tommy Mason-Griffin, has been as good as anybody in the first six practices.
Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said his team will be a very different team, but a talented team.
"I like what this team can become," he said. "We have the pieces."
Baylor coach Scott Drew was asked how will his team avoid a mid-season slump?
Drew said senior point guard Tweety Carter will have more control and show more of his offensive ability."The biggest reason we struggled in the middle is the strength of the Big 12," he said.
"This year, with so many new players, we should get better as the season progresses."
Self was his usual easy-going self. He feels good about his team.
Self said junior center Cole Aldrich has a chance to be the best true big man at KU since Wilt Chamberlain.
Self touched on the some of the offseason incidents that hit his program. He said the incidents hurt the image of his program, but as long as there are no more problems it will not hurt the image in the long term."We have a chance to be a special group, but we will have to be a special group," Self said.
Kansas coach Bill Self started Big 12 Men's Basketball Media Day in good spirits despite the early-morning start.
Self believes this will be the best the Big 12 has ever been.
Welcome to the 2009 version of Big 12 Men's Basketball Media Day.