Today’s (extremely late) signing of Jamal Crook for the 2009-10 season really got my wheels turning on what kind of program head coach Ken McDonald is turning WKU into. In his one season so far, he took a duct-taped together roster of little-used veterans, Juco transfers and international players and was 0.9 seconds away from taking the Toppers to their second consecutive Sweet 16. This in turn, grants him some lee-way with his job and proves that the man can flat out motivate and coach.
But now, he’s starting to raise an eyebrow with his recruiting prowess.
It starts with the Spring 2009 class, with two of the originally signed three already gone in David Laury and Terrence Boyd and the third, junior-college transfer Cliff Dixon, still around.
From the beginning I had my worries about Boyd and Laury based on their backgrounds. Boyd hadn’t played high school basketball in two seasons and had the legitimacy of his SAT test score questioned and Laury’s “high school” was housed in an old hotel with a set up much like the Boys To Men Academy. A prep school in Chicago that the NCAA shut down a year ago after it was discovered that it catered to mainly area basketball recruits with dwindling academic standings.
The rumblings about Dixon were that he was also a little on the controversial side in junior college, sitting out a number of games last season at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College due to attitude issues and team rules violations. So he’s also one to watch.
I applaude head coach Ken McDonald for getting rid of these “red flag” cases before they really became problems. At first I was weary of the signings but now it looks like McDonald has these kids on a short leash after the quick axes given to these two players. While I see the method to McDonald’s madness, it’s still a slippery slope to go down.
And he doesn’t seem to be slowing down with the signing of Crook, who spent last season at a fifth-year prep school in Maine to work on his academics and had to wait this long to both be cleared by the NCAA and await word on eligibility for a scholarship. Factor in the addition in of Oklahoma transfer Juan Patillo to the squad –his third school in four years after spending two seasons at the College of Southern Idaho–and my thoughts are that McDonald and his staff may be giving too many at-risk kids chances when they don’t deserve them. Patillo was dismissed from the Sooners squad for repeated violations of the team’s policy.
It’s a case seen with a coach like West Virginia’s Bob Huggins. While at Cincinnati, Huggins repeatedly gave high-risk recruits and transfers chances to join the Bearcats and reform and more often than not, that blew up in his face. Huggins began to look like a glutton for talented players that lacked character, but was really just too nice to say no to a kid that wanted a chance. I’ve met Huggins and so have others I know and the guy is a classic act off the court who would do anything for someone he thought was deserving, whether they actually were or not.
This was his downfall as a coach then, it’s a path that is starting to look similar with McDonald.
He’s taken chances on five questionable recruits in the past six months and already had two backfire on him. He has good intentions, but everyone knows the cliche about what the path to hell is paved with.
It’s not an issue so much now, and McDonald is handling it way better in his year-and-a-half as head coach than Huggins ever did by taking swift, decisive action against players that are already on thin ice. I support and agree with that, but after a while, they may not be enough.
Only time will tell whether any of the rest of the spring/summer 2009 recruiting class will turn out like Boyd and Laury, but it’s nothing like I’ve ever seen in college basketball and hopefully McDonald won’t let it go on for his entire tenure.