Preparing to Launch into the #WCChoops Season
#WCChoops columnist John Crumpacker breaks down an eventful 2017 Tip-Off
By John Crumpacker - #WCChoops Columnist
(LAS VEGAS, Nev.) - Normally, in basketball, a tip-off indicates a leap, a jump, a quest for the vertical, to reach higher than the other guy.
At last week’s WCC Tip-Off event at the Orleans in Las Vegas, however, the goal was to look downward, scratch the surface, dig deep and find those nuggets that make for good storytelling. There was no shortage of gems among coaches and players from the conference’s 10 men’s and women’s programs preparing for the start of the 2017-18 season.
Perhaps the best nugget unearthed came courtesy of San Diego sharpshooter Cameron Neubauer, a 6-foot-7 senior from Berlin. His parents were both intercollegiate athletes at the University of Cincinnati. That’s where swimmer Eckhard Neubauer met his future wife, basketball player Deanna. The family initially settled in Baltimore before moving to Berlin.
In Baltimore, Eckhard coached a very young swimmer who would go on to have a pretty good career in the pool.
“He coached Michael Phelps when he was really little,’’ Cameron said. “My dad always says when Michael Phelps was little, you could tell he was going to be special.’’
Cameron Neubauer, who was born in Berlin, has dual U.S.-German citizenship. He speaks German, English and French. The only senior on the San Diego roster, he’ll receive his degree in finance in the spring and would like to play professionally in Germany, where his parents reside.
Despite serving a two-year mission in Santiago, Chile, where he played very little basketball, BYU’s Luke Worthington had no trouble knocking the rust off his game after staying in reasonable shape while in South America.
“I ate a healthy diet, a good balanced diet, which helped me,’’ he said.
On the experience of being in Chile, he said, “It was amazing. The mission I served is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to learn as a young man and change lives. People were very receptive. Everyone has a set of beliefs one has to respect. I found myself in very few confrontational situations.’’
Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek will take his Broncos to what turns out will be the 40th and final Great Alaska Shootout during Thanksgiving week. Idaho, host Alaska-Anchorage and Cal State Bakersfield are on Santa Clara’s side of the bracket.
“It’s an historic tournament,’’ Sendek said. “It’s one of the first tournaments of its kind.’’
In fact, the Great Alaska Shootout is the oldest regular season tournament in college basketball.
At one table in the Orleans Arena media room, Loyola Marymount coach Mike Dunlap spoke about the “position-less’’ nature of contemporary college basketball, with less emphasis on such stodgy old positions as guards, forwards and centers. A few tables away, Sendek endorsed the current trend of free-flowing basketball, where guards post up and centers hoist three-point shots.
“I enjoy it a great deal,’’ Sendek said. “It fits the way I see things. It’s the way I’m comfortable coaching.’’
Sendek will have to make do this season without the face of Santa Clara basketball the last four years in Jared Brownridge, a guard just as comfortable driving to the basket as he was stepping back behind the three-point arc and firing away.
“You’re talking about the leading scorer in the history of the conference,’’ the coach said. “He won’t be easy to replace. We’ll have to do that collectively.’’
At San Francisco, coach Kyle Smith will try to build on the 20-13 record he put up in his first season on the Hilltop.
“There’s no magic,’’ he said. “Got to keep doing the same things, only better.’’
Smith’s timing in taking the USF job was impeccable, as it coincides with a renovation and expansion of the Dons’ facility as it transitions from old-school Memorial Gym into the modern and airy Sobrato Center. By 2019, construction will be complete on a project that includes club level seats, a seating capacity of 4,000 and an adjacent practice facility along with other fan-friendly amenities.
“If the school’s going to invest (that much), we have to honor that and have a better schedule,’’ Smith said. “It’s definitely more challenging.’’
Toward that end, the Dons will play Arizona State and Stanford on the road in December in what will be a pair of stout tests before they begin WCC play Dec. 28 at San Diego.
Given the players Gonzaga lost (Zach Collins, Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski) from 2016-17, it was no surprise that the WCC coaches picked Saint Mary’s to win the conference, with the Zags tabbed for second and BYU third.
“I wish it meant something,’’ said the Gaels’ senior marksman, Calvin (Headband) Hermanson. “I wish it was that easy to win the league. In our eyes, Gonzaga is still the team to beat. Our guys are used to that.’’
On the court, Hermanson is easy to identify with his goggles and white headband. At the Tip-Off event, he was minus both accoutrements, rendering him practically incognito.
There’s no hiding the fact that at Portland, coach Terry Porter has two players named Porter on his team – sons Franklin and Malcolm, both 6-4 guard/wings. Franklin is a redshirt sophomore transfer from Saint Mary’s while Malcolm is a redshirt freshman. Many college basketball coaches have had a son on their roster but to have two is special.
“As a dad, it makes me feel proud, watching your kids grow up and accomplish something they always wanted to do,’’ coach Porter said. “They both have good skills, they both bring something to the table. They’ve been blessed to see a lot of basketball at a high level. They’re gym rats. They’re accustomed to getting in the gym and working on their craft.’’
There’s one more distinction the coach wanted to make:
“They call me ‘coach’ when they’re at practice and ‘dad’ when they’re at home.’’