Javier Morales is a former first-place award winner in the Arizona Press Club’s Metro Sports Reporting category. Please visit his Web site at WILDABOUTAZCATS.net
First, it was the NBA draft, starting in 2007, that dealt what was then the Pac-10 a devastating blow.
The inordinate amount of player suspensions and dismissals have also rocked the conference.
Now, as evidenced by the rosters of teams in the NCAA tournament, player defections have completely floored the conference.
At least 18 former Pac-12 scholarship players are on the official rosters of programs in the NCAA tournament. It is no wonder why the conference is the weakest among the major conferences, advancing only two teams to the NCAA tournament. One of them — No. 12 seed Cal — must play in the NCAA tournament’s First Four on Wednesday. The regular-season champion, Washington, was not selected to the Big Dance, the first such scenario for a major college conference.
The mass player transfers immediately followed the raid of top talent from the league by the NBA, resulting in a knockout blow to the league. Between 2007 to 2009, the Pac-10 had the most players drafted by NBA teams with 27. The ACC was next at 22. The Pac-10 had the most first rounders picked in that span with 17, three more than the ACC.
Three of the 18 Pac-12 defectors once attended Arizona on a basketball scholarship — Lamont “MoMo” Jones with Iona, Jeff Withey of Kansas and Daniel Bejarano of Colorado State. Bejarano is sitting out this season because of the NCAA transfer rule. Two other Pac-12 defectors — Jabari Brown and Malcolm Armstead (both of whom transferred from Oregon to Missouri) — must also wait per the transfer rule.
Want to know why UCLA is struggling, other than the fact that Ben Howland lost some of his control according to Sports Illustrated? Four former Bruins are playing for teams in the NCAA tournament, including standouts Drew Gordon (13.4 points and 10.9 rebounds a game) of New Mexico and Mike Moser (14.1 and 10.1) and Chase Stanback (12.7 and 4.7) of UNLV.
Matt Carlino, who enrolled at UCLA but never played for the Bruins because a concussion sidelined him at the start of last season, transferred to BYU and is one of the Cougars’ best players. He is averaging 12.7 points with a team-high 106 assists. The Cougars play Jones and Iona in the other First Four game Tuesday. Jones, granted immediate eligibility because of a family hardship case by the NCAA after leaving Arizona, is averaging 16 points per game for the Gaels.
In addition to 18 former conference players on NCAA tournament rosters, some of the league’s other best players, including Reeves Nelson formerly of UCLA, who were dismissed from their respective teams this year.
Also, Arizona and Washington State found it difficult that Derrick Williams and Klay Thompson left early for the NBA. Colorado managed to survive with a Pac-12 tournament title and NCAA berth following the early departure of Alec Burks to the NBA.