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September 7, 2006

Notebook: Seat gets hotter for Oregon's Kent

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Oregon coach Ernie Kent and his team finished a 10-day trip to the Bahamas last week, but he probably doesn't resemble someone who just came back from a vacation.

Everything seems to indicate that he's in need of a real vacation.

The news that the Golden State Warriors dumped Mike Montgomery for Don Nelson last week immediately fueled talk that the former Stanford coach will return to the coaching ranks. There are plenty of reasons to think Montgomery's next stop will be in Eugene.

For starters, Kent is stuck firmly on the hot seat. The Ducks haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2003 and have gotten steadily worse in each of the last three seasons. Oregon dipped from 18-13 to 14-13 and then a losing record of 15-18 last season, which included an embarrassing loss to the University of Portland.

A roster full of highly touted recruits has made the program's failure to reach expectations more glaring. Junior small forward Malik Hairston was ranked the nation's No. 7 overall prospect and was pursued by a host of elite schools. Hairston's class included two other top 100 recruits, shooting guards Bryce Taylor and Chamberlin Oguchi. The year before one of the nation's top point guards, Aaron Brooks, signed with the Ducks.

Montgomery's West Coast roots add to the speculation that he could wind up at Oregon. A California native, he still has strong recruiting connections all over the neighboring state. His son is also a basketball player at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles and his daughter is part of the volleyball team at USC. Both are entering their senior years.

So, why wouldn't Montgomery target another Pac-10 school, perhaps one riding some momentum and closer to his family? Truth is, he doesn't have that option.

Cardinal coach Trent Johnson is a former assistant and good friend. Tim Floyd, who came back to college after a short stint in the NBA, took over the USC program last year. Ben Howland and Ben Braun are firmly entrenched with long-term contracts at UCLA and Cal. Kent is the only coach in the league with shaky job security at the moment.

While at Stanford - where he compiled a 393-167 record in 18 seasons - Montgomery was also one of a few select coaches with a long-term contract with Nike, which is incredibly well connected with Oregon.

Three Questions with UTEP's new coach Tony Barbee

You are obviously familiar with UTEP from your days in Conference USA, but what makes it such an appealing place? You were one of seven candidates to interview for the job.

"It's because of the history. In the last 40 years they have had four losing seasons. This is a place that wins and a university that has a passion unlike any I have seen. It started when they won a national championship under Don Haskins and every coach has been trying to raise the bar and keep that tradition alive since."

What will be the biggest difference about this program with you in charge?

"The biggest difference will be the speed of the game. We need to force the tempo. That was kind of coach Calipari's biggest blueprint for success in the four years I played for him and the seven years I worked with him and that won't change. But for me, it starts with defense. We need to play man-to-man and hold guys accountable for who they are guarding. We will also press and trap and do anything we can to raise the tempo."

Why did you bring former Memphis assistant Milt Wagner with you to El-Paso?

"You are only as good as the guys you surround yourself with and Milt has great basketball credentials. He won a high school state championship, won a national championship and went to three Final Fours while at Louisville and also won an NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers. He has a lot of knowledge and experience."

Trivia question: What two Florida State quarterbacks also played for the basketball team as well? Hint: One is a starting quarterback in the NFL. (Answer at the bottom).

Pac-10 Sleeper Emerging?

USC's chances of contending in the Pac-10 next season received a giant boost last week when a pair of their recruits, including one they weren't originally expecting until 2007, were declared eligible.

Four-star guard Daniel Hackett took summer classes to earn a high school degree in three years. He'll immediately challenge for the starting point guard job vacated by Ryan Francis, who was tragically shot to death in May.

Four-star power forward Taj Gibson will also contribute right away. Ranked the No. 31 prospect in the class, he will provide a big defensive presence in the paint.

The Trojans could get another big dose of good news in January. Prize recruit Davon Jefferson is hoping to join the team at the start of the second semester if he can take care of some academic issues. An extremely athletic small forward, Jefferson has the potential of a first-round pick.

Vols Get Younger, But More Talented

Tennessee could start two freshman post players and possibly have three freshmen in its starting lineup.

That became a possibility Wednesday when news broke that senior power forward Major Wingate was kicked off the squad for violating team rules. He had been indefinitely suspended since May.

Wingate was a key part of the Vols' surprising run to the SEC East title last season. His stats were rather mediocre - 11 points and four rebounds per game but he provided the only real inside presence for an undersized team.

While his dismissal forces the Vols to use some inexperienced players, it may not be that significant of a blow. Duke Crews and Wayne Chism were both ranked among the top 10 power forwards in the class of 2006. Crews is an excellent defender and both are more athletic than Wingate. The young pair should fit better into coach Bruce Pearl's up-tempo system.

Another good fit for that style of play is freshman guard Ramar Smith, a five-star recruit who is the favorite to win the starting point guard job as well.

Quick hits

  • Defending national champ Florida crushed Brock University 107-51 and the Guelph All-Stars, a team made up of former college players, 84-55, during its Canadian tour. The Gators will receive their national title rings before the football game against UCF on Saturday night.

  • Colorado suffered a significant loss when guard Marcus Hall was declared academically ineligible for the fall semester. Hall, one of two seniors on the team, averaged 8.3 points and a team-high 3.4 assists last season.

  • Nate Minnoy recently left the Purdue program for reasons that are unclear. Minnoy started the first 12 games as a freshman last season but missed the next 15 with a knee injury. He averaged 10.2 ppg and 5.1 rpg last season.

    Answer to trivia question: Charlie Ward and Brad Johnson.

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