Even historically powerful programs like UCLA, Michigan State and Kansas are starting to struggle with the realities of early NBA entry. Have departures changed your recruiting strategy over the past few years?
We’ve had nine players leave early in my years here, and it makes it hard to plan accordingly, because it’s not an exact science. You don’t know when someone’s leaving – after one year, two years, or four. So it makes it difficult to really try and plan. That’s the hard part.
With Honeycutt and Lee gone, who should we look for to take on new roles in the offense?
Those were two of our top three returning scorers, so at the two and three spot there’s going to be a lot of opportunity. Tyler Lamb is going to have a great opportunity this year, he’ll be a sophomore. Norman Powell, a freshman two guard. We have a JC player coming in who will play this year, De’End Parker. We’re going to definitely play one of the Wear twins at the three for significant minutes. Off the top of my head I’d say Dave. It could be Travis, too.
So they have that kind of range? They can handle that position?
Yeah. Their biggest challenge will be defending that position. They’re able to score from any position. They’ve really improved, they’re going to be really good. They’ve done a great job in the year since they’ve been here. Really working hard. Training, lifting, yoga, everything.
Do you expect the flow of your offense to change at all with this year’s personnel?
We still hope to be able to play inside-out, with the luxury of Josh Smith inside and Reeves Nelson, who’s a returning all Pac-12 player now. I think there’s only two or three returning. One of the players who’s had the best summer along with Josh and Reeves is Lazeric Jones, our senior point guard. He’s really had a great summer, and I expect he’ll be one of our top scorers and a real key to our team. The key for him is to stay healthy. Last year he hurt his wrist and prior to that he had another injury, I’m trying to remember what the heck it was. He had kind of an injury-plagued year but he was the only player to start every game on our team last year.
What kinds of things did he work on over the summer to improve?
He’s put a lot of time into his jump shot. He’s really worked hard on his body. He’s been getting up every day – along with Reeves Nelson – at 6:45 every morning and shooting for an hour in the gym and then shooting again at night. He’s done a really good job playing against the competition that’s on our campus during the summer. In our campus gym we’ve got Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, Jordan Farmar, Baron Davis, Earl Watson, Blake Griffin, James Harden… Danny Granger is up there playing all the time. Nick Young, OJ Mayo, a lot of the NBA guys have been up there playing. He’s been playing against those guys, which has been great for him.
Which player or players will be looked to for leadership this season?
Number one would be Lazeric. I expect him to be our leader and returning team captain. De’End Parker will be a leader. He’s got that kind of quality about him.
With two new programs coming into the mix, how will your approach to league play change?
For the first time ever, since the Pac-8 became the Pac-10, there won’t be a true round-robin in the league. That changes the league – not everybody is playing the same schedule. With that being said, the new television package has us really excited about being on ESPN in future years. This is the last year of our old package. Getting a lot more games on ESPN is great for us as a conference. That’s great exposure.