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Return to the 2006-07 Top 144 Preview

July 12th, 2006

By Joel Welser

Broadcast Basketball


Charleston Cougars

Overall Rank: #122

Conference Rank: #1 Southern


2005-06: 17-11, 9-6, 3rd South

2005-06 postseason: none


There are a lot of unknowns regarding the roster of the College of Charleston due to the recent coaching change.  However, if everybody sticks around, the talent level is the best in the conference.  The addition of Coach Bobby Cremins adds immediate hype to a program that has lacked interest over the last few years.  Expect the renewed expectations on campus to go a long way in helping the squad on the court.  


Who’s Out: Drew Hall started all 28 games last season at the point and averaged 6.9 points and 5.2 assists.  His absence will force Dontaye Draper to move over and run the point.  He is capable, but it leaves a massive problem at the two guard spot.  Seldom used forward Pat Hastings has also run out of eligibility and J.R. Hairston and Jose Garcia have left the program.


Who’s In: Konimba Diarra is eligible this season after transferring from South Florida.  The 6-10 center averaged just 1.2 points and 1.6 rebounds two years ago for the Bulls, but is expected to make a much bigger impact for the Cougars.  Diarra won’t be much of a threat on the offensive end, but he’ll make plenty of quality plays on the other end of the court.  Javon Parris redshirted last season and the point guard could make a big impact if he can steal some minutes at the point. 


Who to Watch: Draper is the star, but it is Jermaine Johnson and Josh Jackson who need to have big seasons in the paint.  Johnson, a 6-7 power forward, averaged 8.9 points and 7.5 rebounds as a freshman.  It would be helpful for the Cougars if Johnson could spend some quality time at the small forward spot in order for wing David Lawrence to move to the two.  That would be a big line-up, but it would get the best five players on the floor.  Johnson would be more effective at the four, but the switch would at least be worth a try.  Jackson, a 6-8 center, averaged 12.6 points and 5.8 rebounds a year ago and with another year of experience the junior could continue to improve.


Final Projection: Besides hoping nobody transfers and researching the antics of Coach Cremins, the search for a shooting guard will be the offseason story in Charleston.  Marcus Hammond, Ryan Scott and Renardo Dickerson are the candidates.  Hammond and Scott had inconsistent freshmen campaigns, but a hot streak or two would be enough to earn a starting gig for either player.  Dickerson, who earned nine starts last season, is more of a traditional slashing wing than a shooting guard, not that he won’t put up his fair share of three balls.  Georgia Southern and Elon sport quality squads and, despite the massive loss of talent, Davidson is always a contender; however, Charleston can get the best of them.  And Coach Cremins will get all the credit.


Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA


Projected Starting Five:

Dontaye Draper, Senior, Guard, 18.5 points per game

Marcus Hammond, Sophomore, Guard, 3.4 points per game

David Lawrence, Senior, Guard, 9.3 points per game

Jermaine Johnson, Sophomore, Forward, 8.9 points per game

Josh Jackson, Junior, Center, 12.6 points per game



Recently, the University of Kentucky student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, made headlines by refusing to run an advertisement that expressed displeasure with head coach Tubby Smith, and called for his dismissal.  While the ad itself didn’t run, the story caught national attention, and the sentiment still managed to get out, leading to the annual “Where is the program headed?” debates that invariably follow each UK season.


Granted, the 2005-06 season was maddeningly frustrating for fans. For a variety of reasons, the team never meshed, and rode a roller coaster all season, as viewers tried to figure out which UK team would show up to play that night.  Would it be the team that was pounded by Indiana in December, or the team that knocked off #20 Tennessee on the road in March? How about the team that struggled to put away an over-matched Ole Miss in the 1st round of the SEC Tournament, and then nearly knocked off NCAA Tournament favorite UConn?


However inconsistent, uncaring or dull as they may have seemed through the season, they did finish with another 20-win season (22 to be exact), and did advance to the 2nd round of the Big Dance before losing to a team that was among the most talented in the country. It may not have looked like the dominance that UK fans have come to expect, but the end results weren’t that far off. I know Kentucky isn’t most schools, but I think it’s worth pointing out that 22-13 isn’t the end of the world. It hardly signifies that the program is on a deathbed, or that UK is falling rapidly behind the other elite programs.


Entering his tenth year at the helm of UK, Tubby has won 77 percent of his games, and averaged nearly 27 wins per year. Under him, the Cats have five SEC titles, five SEC Tournament titles, and the1998 National Championship.


Ahh.. the national title.  It’s the card that all Tubby supporters love to play, and the one that Tubby-bashers have patented their argument against.  “Yes Tubby won a championship, but he did with [Rick] Pitino’s players.” While it’s true that Tubby didn’t recruit the players who cut down those nets, it wasn’t as if he took over the uber-talented 1996 Chicago Bulls. The 1998 team started Nazr Mohammed, Scott Padgett, Allen Edwards, Jeff Sheppard and Wayne Turner- a great college team to be sure, but hardly one that could simply rely on pure talent to overwhelm teams. In fact, the team was nick-named the Comeback Cats, for their ability to bounce back off the mats and pull out tough victories. From the epic comeback against Duke in the NCAA Regional Finals (17 point deficit with nine minutes remaining), to the championship win over Utah (down 10 at the half), the 1998 team showed remarkable character and spirit through the season- a direct reflection on the coach.


True, Tubby can’t live off one national title for his career- especially at a place like UK. But should success only be measured by the trophies?  If so, does that mean that UK basketball, for all their glory and tradition, has had only seven successful seasons in their 103-year history?


Success should, in part, be measured by the team, and how they meet their potential. In 2003, Tubby’s Cats  rode under-recruited, gritty overachievers like Gerald Fitch and Erik Daniels to a 26 game win streak, before running into a rising superstar named Dwayne Wade. Two years ago, UK came within minutes of a Final Four berth, despite having four true freshmen in the playing rotation. Under Tubby, players like Tayshaun Prince and Keith Bogans, who entered college with plenty of hype, became well-rounded stars throughout their four years, and now both are enjoying NBA paychecks. Marquis Estill went from an overweight high school center to 2nd Team All-SEC in 2003, and the school’s all-time leader in field goal percentage. Even little used seniors Preston LeMaster and Brandon Stockton had break-out moments this past season, having paid their dues for three years under Smith. Success can be viewed in any number of ways, and Tubby’s teams have proved that.


Yes, last year’s squad left a lot to be desired. As a team that many had pegged for a deep tournament run in the pre-season, UK quickly fell out of the top 25, and never seemed to totally right the ship. They openly feuded with each other, and fans grew disenchanted with watching a team trying to find itself. To make matters worse, UK’s rival and SEC foe Florida took home the title, signifying in some minds a changing of the guard in the SEC.


But Tubby promised changes, and that promise has been full-filled. Gone are Rajon Rondo, Adam Williams, Shagari Alleyne, and Rekalin Sims, along with seniors Patrick Sparks, Ravi Moss, Preston LeMaster and Brandon Stockton.  Incoming freshmen Derrick Jasper and Jodie Meeks lead a solid class that will offer much-needed depth in the backcourt, and perhaps a breath of fresh air in a program that needs it.


Tubby doesn’t need this season to save his job, though some would have you believe it. He may be taking some heat, but a university can hardly rely on disgruntled, uninformed fans to guide their decision-making. Yes, a couple more seasons like last year, and Tubby may want to start looking for some good Lexington realtors. But let’s not bury the man yet. He’s shown he can win basketball games, even under the unrelenting pressure of a job like UK.


Besides, without Tubby, what would that leave for people in Lexington to complain about?


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