New Nebraska coach Doc Sadler racked up enough frequent flier miles for a free flight in his first week on the job. Actually, Sadler might already have enough for a couple of free rides.
Sadler, who officially replaced Barry Collier last Tuesday, left Lincoln, Neb., for Australia this past weekend according to the Omaha World-Herald. He got back to his home and quickly hopped on another plane heading to New York City on Tuesday. By the time he got back to campus he traveled more than 12,800 miles.
All the jet lag was well worth it. Sadler used the trips to convince the Huskers' top two returning players to stay in the program.
Junior center Aleks Maric – the team's top returning scorer (10.9 ppg) and the Big 12's top returning rebounder (8.1 rpg) – asked for a release from his scholarship after Collier left to be the athletic director at Butler. The day after Sadler met with Maric and his family in Sydney, Maric said he would be back in Lincoln this upcoming weekend.
Sadler said sophomore point guard Jamel White – the team's second-leading scorer (8.7) – would also be returning after he met with White and his mother in Brooklyn. White was considering transferring after former Huskers assistant Scott Spinelli, who recruited him, left for Wichita State in April.
"My first recruiting job has been getting the guys who signed to come back," said Sadler during an interview on RivalsRadio earlier this morning. "We didn't have all the players on campus when I got here and I wanted to go out and give them a chance to meet with me."
The return of Maric and White gives the Huskers, which are coming off a 19-14 season, a chance to be an NCAA Tournament team. The Huskers didn't make the tournament during Collier's six-year tenure.
Maric, who at 6-foot-11, 265 pounds is one of the biggest players in the Big 12, put together what may have been the best single-game performance in the league last season. He scored 37 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked four shots in a 73-63 win at Iowa State.
White had a breakout game in a 65-52 win over Missouri on Jan. 28, coming off the bench to score 28 points in 23 minutes. He became a fixture in the starting lineup from there on and scored in double figures in nine of the last 11 games.
Seeing coaches fight for players to stay is the opposite of what Huskers fans are used to. Four players from the 2005-06 squad were dismissed or transferred, including talented guard Joe McCray, who averaged 15.5 points a game as a freshman the previous season.
More changes are on the way. Sadler, who will hire a new staff, provides a stark contrast to the low-key Collier. Sadler is a player's coach, personable and gregarious. He looks as comfortable cracking jokes and rubbing elbows with boosters as he does discussing the nuances of a 2-3 zone.
But the biggest difference might be their desire to coach in a major conference. Sadler made it clear he wanted to come to Nebraska before the job was even officially offered.
"I got a call around 10:15 p.m. last week," said Sadler when asked about the first time he was contacted about the opening at Nebraska. "I told them if they are looking for a coach at Nebraska we can get this thing done tonight."
Nebraska's travel secretaries have been working overtime since.
What is the only Big Ten school never to reach the NCAA Tournament? (Answer at the end of the column.)
From contender to pretender and eventually …. back to contender
If Herb Sendek doesn't reach a sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament, he can blame the Kru(e)gers.
Sendek, who led N.C. State to the Big Dance the last five years, looked like he had a legitimate chance to extend the streak when he left to take over the Arizona State program in early April.
The Sun Devils were coming off an 11-17 season, but were returning their top three scorers.
However, two months after Sendek took the job he lost his leading scorer. Kevin Kruger (15.0 ppg) transferred to UNLV to play for his father, Lon. The younger Kruger took advantage of a new NCAA rule that allows players with undergraduate degrees to switch schools without having to sit out a year.
Then, senior guard Bryson Krueger (12.3 ppg) was kicked off the team after being arrested for possession of a firearm and various drugs.
The losses put the Sun Devils back in rebuilding mode, but don't feel too bad for Sendek.
The future of the Pac-10 program looks promising thanks to five-star shooting guard James Harden and three-star point guard Jamelle McMillan, who each committed to the Sun Devils over a five-day period earlier this month. Both turned down several scholarship offers from more established programs.
Harden, ranked the No. 18 prospect in the class of 2007, has NBA-level athleticism. McMillan's father, Nate, played in the NBA and now coaches the Portland Trailblazers.
The Pac-10's premier programs – Arizona, UCLA and Washington – all seriously pursued Harden, but ASU had a recruiting edge the others couldn't offer. Sendek hired Harden's former high school coach, Scott Pera, to be the Sun Devils' director of basketball operations.
The 5-foot-10, 165-pound sophomore was recruited by several major programs coming out of national prep power Wheeler High in Marietta, Ga. Curry wound up with the Friars and put together one of the best seasons of any freshman in the Big East, averaging 11.9 points and 3.5 assists per game. He scored 24 points at Pittsburgh and had a season-high 25 versus Notre Dame.
You grew up in the heart of ACC and SEC country. How did you wind up in the Northeast?
"I didn't get a (qualifying) SAT score right away, and as it took me longer more schools faded away. Wake Forest, Clemson, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Nebraska, Minnesota and a bunch of other schools were recruiting me, but in the end Providence was the one school still around. I took a visit and signed the very next week. I still have a lot of the recruiting letters and when I see them it makes me sad about how the whole situation played out. But, I didn't complain. I was given a chance to play in the best conference in the country and I'm trying to make the best of it."
Leading scorer Donnie McGrath is gone, but with every other key player back and Big East powers like Connecticut and West Virginia losing so much could the Friars be the surprise of the league next season?
"I think we can. Losing Donnie hurt us and we will miss his leadership. But we have some post guys improving. I've been working on getting stronger and gained 10 pounds since we got out of school. I cut out junk food and sweets and now I'm feeling more explosive. If we come together and stay healthy I definitely think we should be in the top half of the Big East."
You scored 20 points in just your seventh college game against Florida – a team that went on to win the national title. How big a confidence-builder was that?
"It helped. I just remember we stuck with them for a little bit in the first half and then they started to pull away. By halftime one of our assistant coaches pulled me aside and told me to act more aggressive, to attack and create for myself. I was proud to see them win the national championship and knowing we would get to play them next season (at Florida)."
The Coaching Carousel
The National Association of Basketball Coaches recently placed Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson on probation for three years for the recruiting violations that occurred during his time at Oklahoma.
Sampson, who used to be on the NABC's board of directors, can not serve in any position within the organization and cannot receive any of their awards or Final Four tickets.
In May, the NCAA banned Sampson from calling recruits or making off-campus visits for a year because of violations the OU staff committed from 2000-2004.
• Former Florida State guard Andrew Wilson recently joined Bobby Cremins' staff at the College of Charleston. When Cremins was nearing the end of his tenure at Georgia Tech he recruited Wilson, who holds FSU's all-time record for games played (had six seasons of eligibility thanks to two medical redshirts).
• Backup point guard T.J. Bannister recently left Virginia and plans to transfer. Bannister, who averaged 13 minutes and 2.1 points per game last season, has one year of eligibility remaining. His departure likely means less breathers for one of the nation's top point guards, Sean Singletary, who earned first-team All-ACC honors last season. The Cavs don't have any other experienced point guards on the roster and didn't sign any for the incoming recruiting class.
• Kansas State kicked senior center Tyler Hughes off the team on Saturday, 48 hours after the school's administration learned that he was a registered sex offender in the state of Kansas. Hughes' name was added to the Kansas Bureau of Investigations' sex offender Web site list in late May, but according to the district attorney in the case the incident happened before he was 18. Hughes, who is 21, played in 26 games last season, averaging 1.7 points.
• Arizona will play five games during a three-day exhibition tour in Canada from Sept. 2-4. The Wildcats face the University of British Columbia twice and also go up against the Vancouver All-Stars, Simon Fraser University and the University of Saskatchewan. The extra games should help prized recruit Chase Budinger gain some valuable chemistry with his new teammates.
• The rumors of mega-hyped prospect O.J. Mayo heading to USC heated up again after he attended a Trojans football practice on Saturday. Mayo was reportedly going to announce he was committing to the Pac-10 school at a press conference later in the day, but it never materialized. Mayo's AAU teammate, center Aaron Pogue, went with him to the practice. Mayo, who is No. 5 in the Rivals.com rankings for the class of 2007, took his first visit to USC in July.
• Nevada hits the road to face Stanford in a rare exhibition game between Division I programs in October. The matchup will be closed to the public due to NCAA rules. Two years ago Stanford hired Trent Johnson away from Nevada. He was replaced by his former assistant Mark Fox.
• Six coaches are going to Japan from August 21-23 as part of Operation Hardwood III, an Armed Forces Entertainment program. The first two operations were held in Kuwait. This group includes Connecticut's Jim Calhoun, George Washington's Karl Hobbs, Virginia's Dave Leitao, Georgetown's John Thompson III , The Citadel's Ed Conroy and Western Kentucky's Darrin Horn. Former UCLA coach Steve Lavin will also be coaching soldiers in the three-day tournament.
• Vanderbilt point guard Alex Gordon apologized in a written statement for a photo of him holding a bottle of alcohol on his MySpace.com page. Gordon is 20 years old.
• Former Maryland center Lonny Baxter was arrested on weapons charges early Wednesday morning in Washington, D.C. Minutes after reports surfaced of shots being fired near the White House, officers pulled over Baxter in an SUV and found spent shell casings and a handgun.
Answer to trivia question: Northwestern
Note: Information from the Omaha World-Herald, Kansas City Star, The Washington Post, other media outlets and Internet sites within the Rivals.com network contributed to this report.