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October 23, 2008

Big East Notes: Clark earns high praise

NEW YORK Maybe an 11-man preseason all-conference team wasn't enough for the 16-team Big East this season.

Big East coaches spent nearly as much time raving about the players who didn't make the team than those that did at the league's annual media day Wednesday.

Among the exclusions were Louisville forward Earl Clark, who has a chance to be a lottery pick in the 2009 draft. Clark averaged 14.5 points in four NCAA tournament games last season despite coming off the bench in each one.

"I think Earl will have a monster year," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "He might be the most talented player in this league."

Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun pointed out that Huskies senior power forward Jeff Adrien has been more productive than either of the two Huskies guard A.J. Price and center Hasheem Thabeet who were voted to the preseason team.

"Jeff has had a better career than A.J. or Hasheem," Calhoun said. "He had more double-doubles (16) than anyone in the Big East last season. But it's based more on potential."

Calhoun can't be accused of only campaigning for his own players. He also made a case for Georgetown senior guard Jessie Sapp, a key player for a Hoyas program that lost point guard Jonathan Wallace and 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert.

"I think Jessie is a terrific player," Calhoun said. "I love his disposition on the court. He could flourish without Hibbert because Georgetown is more mobile now."

South Florida sophomore guard Dominique Jones may have been a member of the team if he suited up for Georgetown or Connecticut. Jones averaged 18.2 points in Big East games last season, a number bested only by Notre Dame's Luke Harangody (the Big East's 2007-08 Player of the Year and the league's preseason player of the year) and Pitt star forward Sam Young (MVP of the 2008 Big East tournament and an all-preseason pick).

"Dominique is a very underrated player," Bulls coach Stan Heath said. "I don't think he's getting his due. If we had been in the top six or eight teams last year, I have no doubts he'd be an all-conference player. I think that will motivate him to find a way to make the team better."

Injury bug bites two of Big East's finest

Two of the league's top players will miss preseason practice and possibly a few early season games because of injuries.

Louisville forward Terrence Williams, who led his team in assists and was second in scoring and rebounding last season, had knee surgery last week and will be out from four to six weeks. Williams said he isn't feeling any pain and expects to play in the Cardinals' opener on Nov. 22 against Morehead State.

"I'll get back to 100 percent," Williams said. "The way that we practice will help with that."

Williams has good reason to want to return so quickly: Louisville has added a pair of five-star big men (Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings), and Williams says this is the most talented Cardinals team that he has been a part of.

The timetable on Pittsburgh guard Levance Fields is more shaky. Neither Fields, who reinjured his foot last month, nor Pitt coach Jamie Dixon would put a rough date on when Fields will return. He missed 12 games last season with a broken bone in his foot.

"Obviously, it's not ideal," Dixon said. "We kept him out for two months after the season, and to have a different break on the same bone is tough. I don't know how to explain it."

Price, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament in UConn's first-round NCAA tournament loss to San Diego last season, is practicing, but Calhoun said he has yet to fully recover.

"When A.J. lands, I can still see him favoring that bad leg," Calhoun said. "He's just got to get past it mentally."

Pitino's never been so pleasant

Rick Pitino says he's enjoying coaching more now than ever as he enters his 23rd year as a college head coach and eighth at Louisville.

"When you are a young coach, you are coaching for so many reasons," Pitino said. "You want your family to be stable. You want to move up the career ladder. Now I just coach for fun and for passion and for the true love of the game."

Pitino's demeanor may be boosted by the departure of big man Derrick Caracter. Caracter, who had been suspended multiple times for off-court infractions in his two years with the Cards, is not on the roster this year, though Pitino has not ruled out a return.

Gold medal on par with national title

Boeheim said being an assistant on the gold medal-winning U.S. men's basketball team at the Beijing Olympics ranked right alongside winning his only national title in 2003.

"It was as good an experience as anything I've been involved with," Boeheim said. "We had heard some negatives, but went in with an open mind. The players were asked to do certain things by (coach) Mike Krzyzewski and they did them from Day One. They really sacrificed, and everyone did their little part. Mike did an unbelievable job."


DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright blames much of the Blue Demons' 11-19 record last season on losing two of their first three games, including a 96-93 loss to North Carolina A&T at home. "We were victimized by a lack of confidence," Wainwright said. "We were 2-4 after facing Kansas and Vanderbilt and we never recovered." The first four games this season come against mid- or low-major programs. Georgetown forward DaJuan Summers attended LeBron James and Vince Carter camps this past summer. West Virginia five-star freshman Devin Ebanks already has impressed his teammates. "He's very talented and very gifted. He's going to be a great player after a couple of years under (coach Bob) Huggins," WVU guard Alex Ruoff said.

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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