By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
SEC commissioner Mike Slive has focused on improvement in his basketball teams’ non-conference scheduling to improve computer ratings, rankings and NCAA bids.
The league could also put a better product on the floor in 2013-2014 because of an influx of talent.
As many as 10 McDonald’s All-Americans could enter the league this season, the academic status of 6-foot-10 Florida signee Chris Walker still pending.
Kentucky coach John Calipari says it’s “exciting” to see the infusion of talent.
“It’s not just us. If everybody thinks we get everybody we want all the time, you’re out of your mind. We hear no a lot,” he said.
Of course, Calipari is getting his. He doesn’t hear no all the time.
Led by twin Texans Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison, plus fellow Texan Julius Randle, the Wildcats have three players rated No. 1 at their respective positions by ESPN.
LSU went 19-12 overall, 9-9 in the SEC in Johnny Jones’ first season as coach.
The Tigers return a centerpiece player in Mississippian Johnny O’Bryant who is back for his junior year after leading the SEC in double-doubles.
Jones has added a consensus top 10 recruiting class with three top 100 players led by local product Jarrell Martin of Madison Prep in Baton Rouge. ESPN ranks him the No. 11 player overall, the No. 3 power forward.
“He’s very versatile,” Jones said. “He’s a guy who can play on the perimeter or inside. He will have to continue to work in the transition from high school to college, but he’s a guy with a great deal of potential who is capable of making that transition and really making an impact.”
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson added a pair of bigs in the early signing period including Moses Kingsley of New Albany, who played at Huntington (West Virginia) Prep last season.
The Razorbacks were 19-13, 10-8 in the league in 2012-2013.
There’s more summer buzz for Little Rock native Bobby Portis, rated a five-star recruit and the No. 15 player nationally by Rivals.
“I saw Bobby a number of times,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “The way Mike plays he should be able to come in and show his skill set from Day 1.”
Kennedy has his own talent coming in. Three of his four signees are international players. Two of them, Dwight Coleby and Sebastian Saiz, will be counted upon heavily to help rebuild the frontcourt after the departures of the school’s career-leading shot-blocker, Reggie Buckner, and career-leading rebounder, Murphy Holloway.
Saiz averaged 7.4 points and 8.3 rebounds for Spain in the recent U-19 World Championships in the Czech Republic.
The Rebels’ third international signees, 6-foot-7 swing man Janari Joesaar, is healing from off-season foot surgery and is expected to be physically ready for the beginning of the season.
I.J. Ready, a 5-10, 170-pound point guard from Little Rock highlights four Mississippi State newcomers.
After injuries and dwindling numbers among scholarship players in his first season, it’s about who’s coming back as much as who’s coming in for MSU coach Rick Ray.
Guard Jalen Steele and center Wendell Lewis are healthy after missing most or all of Ray’s debut season.
As the Bulldogs embrace a fresh start they need not embrace preconceived ideas of their worth to the team, Ray says.
“I told them not to make any assumptions. Don’t assume because they were injured that they’ll automatically get to play a lot of minutes,” he said. “Don’t assume because we have 13 scholarship players available rather than six that we’re going to be a better team. We have to put in the work in the off-season to improve.”
It’s a common command, even at Kentucky.
“Any time you’re adding talent there’s hope, but how do I get them to play together?” Calipari asked. “How do I get them to sacrifice for one another? That’s the challenge. The coaching that goes on in this league … you’re going to exploit a team’s weakness, a player’s weakness. If you don’t play with your team, your team’s losing.”