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October 25, 2006

Notebook: Veterans lead the new look Big East

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NEW YORK CITY - While many writers and pundits this offseason wanted to talk about players that were not coming back to the Big East this season, there were also a few who wanted to talk about who is returning.

"We return four double-digit scorers," DePaul coach Jerry Wainright said. "For us to be successful, we will need to have that balance again. We will need to get the same production out of our leaders and have some young guys step up so we can limit the minutes."

DePaul has the luxury of bringing back two Big East first-team players, Sammy Mejia and Wilson Chandler.

Mejia averaged 15 points on 48 percent shooting for DePaul last season. Chandler is an emerging superstar in the league who averaged 11 points and seven rebounds his freshman year.

"Those are the guys who made the big shots last year, and those are the guys you can turn to to make the big shots again this year." Wainright said. "That is a great thing to have."

Having experience is something that has equated to success in the past, especially through the course of a tough Big East season.

"Veterans are the guys who will get you through the wars," St. John's coach Norm Roberts explains. "They have been there and done that, and aren't afraid to do it again."

With Big East first team player Lamont Hamilton on the Red Storm front line this season, Roberts likes what he has seen from his team.

"Having leaders and experienced players has carried teams through the Big East," Roberts said. "Look at the teams like Syracuse, West Virginia, Louisville, and Pittsburgh over the past few seasons. They have gotten older and had those older guys carry them."

Syracuse coach Jim Beoheim agrees. "We are very happy to have the vets back. We have a nice mix of young players and returning guys. But it is great to have those vets - it is a big big factor in our success."

Syracuse is the team flying under the national radar. They lost main scorer Gerry McNamara but return seniors Demetrius Nichols and Terrence Roberts, as well as guard Eric Devendorf.

While others rebuild, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Syracuse and Marquette were picked to finish atop the conference. It is no coincidence that those are the teams that lost the least. Pittsburgh returned eight of 10 players, Georgetown brings back the duo of Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green, Syracuse returns four of five starters and Marquette will use the explosive combo of Big East first-team guard Dominic James and Jerel McNeal to lead their charge this season.

While there are plenty of big-name players that left, the strength of this conference is in the players that remain - and the players that will emerge.

Pittsnogle part two?
West Virginia is a team that has a lot of question marks and had a lot of holes to fill after losing most of its starting five. One hole may be filled in the form of a 7-foot Butler transfer Jamie Smalligan.

Smalligan has been impressing players and coaches. While coach John Beilein is reluctant to tap the player the next Kevin Pittsnogle, Mountaineer Frank Young is not afraid to draw the comparison.

"Jaime Smalligan is just as good of a shooter as Pittsnogle was," Young boasted, "but he doesn't have the quick release."

If Young's scouting report is accurate, that could be a huge boost for West Virginia.

Brey not blue
One would think Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey would be a little tense entering this season. Not so.

Despite losing playmakers Chris Quinn and Torin Francis after a disappointing season in 2005-06, Brey was one of the most jovial coaches at the Big East Media Day event. Brey was openly joking and had the media - who wanted to find out if he was on the hot seat - in full belly-laugh.

After Brey was asked about being picked 10th in the conference, he stood up, looked around and said, "Tenth? We were picked 10th? Where are the coaches? I told them to pick us 12th."

Brey seemed clearly relaxed while most were trying to make him squirm.

Celebrities in attendance
The Voice of the Irish Don Criqui, CBS college basketball color man Bill Rafftery and his broadcast partner Jim Nantz were all in attendance for this years event. All three men were gushing about the talent and level of play in the conference.

"This may be one of the best basketball conferences, from top to bottom, in the nation," Rafftery said. "They lost a lot of NBA talent, but it looks like they have more in tow."

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