John Wooden Award Tipoff Lunch: Top Big West storylines
SEP 25, 2013 6:03p ET
Coaches from San Luis Obispo to San Diego preview the season, their teams or their jokes at the Los Angeles Athletic Club in an event hosted by the Wooden family, and this year's edition was no different. Here's a look at the hot topics in the Big West Conference at the Wooden Tipoff Lunch:
The Beach is Back
Technically, Long Beach State never truly fell off the radar. The 49ers won a third straight Big West title last season, but a lackluster final stretch landed them in the NIT.
The only starter lost from last season is leading scorer James Ennis, who was drafted in the second round by the Miami Heat, but guard Keala King and forwards Tony Freeland and Deng Deng were dismissed from the team in May, a move that seemed somewhat puzzling to the outside.
Head coach Dan Monson, a two-time Big West Coach of the Year, gave a small glimpse into what might have been behind the controversial decision.
"Last year, we had an ok year but I didn't really enjoy it that much, to be honest with you," Monson said. "I didn't like the way we represented Long Beach State University."
Long Beach has been the trendy mid-major upset pick for a few years now, nearly making the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2012 until falling in the final minutes to Alford's New Mexico team. Last season, a haul of Division I transfers were supposed to make up for the loss of four starters, but chemistry isn't something that can be replicated.
"We did win the league," Monson said. "We didn't have any failed drug tests, we didn't have anybody walk out, we didn't have anyone breaking team rules, we just didn't have people representing the school the way I wanted so I made some changes."
A Level Up
UCLA head coach Steve Alford made a joke that he couldn't find any bigs to bring to Westwood, but he knows why: Because they're all down in Irvine.
The Anteaters boast one of the tallest teams in the nation this season with the additions of freshmen Mamadou Ndiaye and Ioannis Dimakopoulos. Ndiaye was especially talked about Wednesday afternoon, as head coach Russell Turner discussed the 7-foot-6 center as if he was an urban legend. Born in Senegal but prepped in Huntington Beach, Ndiaye speaks five languages and can do back flips into the dormitory pools.
Turner should credit his six-year-old son for this season's recruiting tactic.
"He had a great idea when we were at Disneyland," Turner said. "He said those signs for Space Mountain, they say you have to be 48-inches. He told me that I need to get one of those signs, then get another one and tack them together and carry them around on recruiting visits."
The Big West has three new faces this season, with none more recognizable than former NBA player Reggie Theus.
Jokingly referred to as a "male model" by one coach, the player-turned-actor-turned-coach has taken a windy road to Cal State Northridge.
Theus coached in the NCAA and the NBA before realizing the collegiate game was where he wanted to be. Now that he's back, he plans to stay.
"A lot of coaches have said to me, ‘I'm thinking about the NBA, I've been thinking about trying to make a move,'" Theus said. "I want to tell you, stay where you are. You don't want to deal with those politics.
"In the end, it's you're program. In the end you're responsible for everything that goes on that program. And win or lose, it's you're responsibility. I think that's what gets us fired up."
Cal State Fullerton also has a promising new head coach in Dietrich Taylor and UC Riverside replaced Jim Woolridge, now the athletic director, with his assistant Dennis Cutts.
UC Santa Barbara head coach Bob Williams was impressed by the hires, but probably not for reasons you might think.
"These guys are replacing very good coaches," Williams said. "But look at how much better looking these guys are. This is the GQ group, it's unbelievable."
The Elder Statesman
Nearly every coach in the room counted UCSB's Williams as a mentor. And nearly every head coach in the room made a joke about his age.
While Williams is proud to be the longest-tenured coach of the group with 15 years at the helm of the Gauchos, he was hoping that he wasn't the oldest person in the room. San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher usually takes that honor.
Except Fisher was absent this year.
"I wish Steve would have shown up," Williams said. "I'm officially the oldest person here."
Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero learned what might possibly be the most important lesson of the luncheon this year.
"This is my fifth year (coming here)," Callero said. "It's amazing, because I finally figured out where the parking garage is… That's the most important thing I've learned in coaching in the last four years."
Luckily for Callero, parking was validated.
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