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Pac-12 Media Day blog: Cats not third-best team, Miller says

Mike Montgomery

Cal coach Mike Montgomery will be back on the sideline after a scary bout of bladder cancer. Photo by Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

LOS ANGELES — Many coaches gently chide the media when they feel their team is not rated highly enough in preseason polls. Not Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller.

“There is no way in the world we’re the third-best team in the Pac-12,” Miller said of where his team landed in the Pac-12 media poll.

“Hopefully, I won’t say that next year but I will am saying it now. There is no chance that’s where we’re at.”

Maybe the fourth-best?

In any case, it’s hard to argue with Miller after Arizona’s loss to Seattle Pacific on Thursday night.

* * *

Arizona coach Sean Miller opens with a joke: “I guess I’m the only coach up here who is 0-1.”

He adds quickly: “We’re not the team that was in the Elite Eight. We’re a brand new team.”

* * *

UCLA coach Ben Howland said he has had meetings about his team taking an exhibition trip to China, perhaps as early as next fall.

* * *

Washington sophomore guard Terrence Ross averaged 8.0 points per game as a freshman last season, but could be one of the league’s premier players this season.

“Terrence is immensely talented,” Husky coach Lorenzo Romar said.

“He’s a very good offensive player. He’s a great athlete. He has a knack for putting the ball in the basket. What has taken place over last year is he has become a better defensive player. … The fact he is paying attention to being more well-rounded is really going to help his cause.”

* * *

USC coach Kevin O’Neill on Cal coach Mike Montgomery: “Not a more respected coach in the whole country.”

* * *

USC coach Kevin O’Neill’s team suffered a devastating injury loss when point guard Jio Fontan blew out his knee this summer. KO sat at the interview table at Media Day with sophomore guard Maurice Jones and said:

“He is playing 40 minutes per game this year. I’m informing him of that right now. He’s going to have to.”

USC doesn’t really have a second ball-handler.

“If Mo gets hurt, we can’t really even play the games,” O’Neill said. “Don’t come to the games. It will be ugly.”

But O’Neill vowed, “We’re going to guard you. That’s going to happen, no matter what.”

* * *

Cal coach Mike Montgomery sat down at the interview table and said, “It’s good to see everybody and, in light of recent circumstances, it’s good to be seen.”

He explained.

Montgomery was diagnosed about a month ago with bladder cancer.

“Through a series of extremely fortuitous events, we were able to get in, get the little polyp, tumor, out and everything since that time has been all clear, all clear, all clear. Essentially I went from having high-grade bladder cancer to cancer-free at this point.”

Montgomery said he was resumed some basketball duties and that he will have no physical limitations this season.

“I will be back full-time Monday, much to the players’ chagrin,” he said.

He said that the doctors told him that if he had been checked six months earlier, the cancer would not have been detected. Six months later, he said, and it would have been too late.

“It’s scary,” he said.

* * *

Colorado is paired with Utah as a travel partner in the new Pac-12, which might — or might not — create a rivalry.

“I don’t know if you pick a rival,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. ”

“I know everybody is trying yo make Utah our rival and maybe that is what it will end up being, but I’m more of the mind that rivalries develop.”

* * *

New Utah coach Larry Krystowiak was asked by one of his local beat writers this morning what it felt like to be picked a “distant last” in the Pac-12 media poll.

“Distant last? What’s distant last?” Krystowiak said he replied.

“Then I looked and we were the only team with two digits.”

He was referring to the fact Utah had 74 points in the poll; Colorado and Washington State tied for 10th with 119 points.

“For us, we have so many internal things to try to improve on and learn than we really haven’t had a lot of time to sort out where we might fit in in the overall scheme of things,” Krystowiak said. “Just because we’re picked last has no relevance to me. There are always two or three teams in every league that exceed expectations.”

Further showing his dry wit he noted that the league media had correctly picked the winner of the conference in 12 of the past 19 years and wondered what’s the record for picking the worst team.

“Hopefully, that is not quite as high a number,” he said.

* * *

Washington State guard Marcus Capers is asked which player in the Pac-12 is toughest to guard. His answer: Cal’s Allen Crabbe, the league Freshman of the Year last season.

* * *

Washington State coach Ken Bone on new Utah coach Larry Krystowiak, the former coach at Montana and an ex-NBA coach: “Larry is intense. They play relentless basketball and will bring it. They are going to be a team to be reckoned with, there is no doubt about it.”

Utah doesn’t have the personnel to compete right away, but it has the tradition to be a factor in a few years. The Utes have eight new players and only four returning players.

* * *

Oregon is a bit of a mystery with eight newcomers — eight very talented newcomers that includes Louisiana Tech transfer Olu Ashaolu (who could be a rebounding machine in the Pac-12) and, more notably in recruiting circles, freshman guard Jabari Brown.

He will play a significant role; how much is to be determined,” coach Dana Altman said. “He shoots it well from the perimeter and is getting better at putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket.”

As for the impact of those eight new scholarship players?

“We like our increased athleticism; we like our increased depth,” Altman said. “It will take some time for us to jell as a team. I think team chemistry is going to be important.”

Oregon was widely picked last in the league last season but went 7-11 and tied for seventh. The Ducks are picked fifth in this season’s media poll.

“This year, people are expecting some things,” said senior guard Garrett Sim.

* * *

Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins is bullish on his point guard position. He said sophomore Aaron Bright “is probably our most improved player.” And then there is touted freshman Chasson Randle.

“Chasson Randle definitely gives us depth there and definitely answers some of our questions as to how do we compete in the Pac-12,” Dawkins said.

“When I first saw Chasson, I thought he was a winner. I also saw a young man who was very versatile in his play. … I think he adds another dimension to our team.”

* * *

Oregon State coach Craig Robinson says his team will play more man-to-man defense this season after relying on the 1-3-1 zone for most of the past three seasons.

“We just haven’t had the athletes, the athletic ability and the depth to play man-to-man,” Robinson said. “You have to have a little bit of depth to play man-to-man. But we would never, ever, stop playing the 1-3-1.”

* * *

Strong opening statement from Oregon State coach Craig Robinson:

“Over the past few years, we have been rebuilding the place at Oregon State and I sort of had to couch my statements with terms like, ‘We’re going to try our best’ and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “For the first time, I think I have a team that can compete in every single game we play this season.”

The Beavers are picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 media poll.

* * *

Arizona State is still waiting on star freshman guard Jahii Carson, who has not been academically cleared.

“I’m not at liberty to say very much for obvious privacy reasons,” coach Herb Sendek said. “We remain hopeful that he will be able to join us sometime in the near future. …

“Our approach from the beginning has been that we’re going to work with the guys who are available and take it from there.”

* * *

Arizona State has only player returning who averaged more than 5.4 points last season, that being guard Trent Lockett, who averaged 13.4 points.

“Other than Trent, we don’t have somebody who has put a lot of points on the board yet in their career,” coach Herb Sendek said. “I don’t know if we can look to any one individual. I think we’re going to have to be a team that works to get each baskets.”

* * *

Commissioner Larry Scott, talking about the launch of the Pac-12 television networks next August, says the national narrative will change when every conference game is available on national television.

He used ex-Arizona Wildcat Derrick Williams as an example, saying how it seemed the rest of the country only caught on to Williams during the NCAA Tournament. And he’s right about that.

“Those of us who were in the conference and followed some of his exciting performances during the year, saw that we had a special student-athlete and a special team there,” Scott said.

* * *

While we’re waiting for the interviews to begin, it’s worth noting what Fox Sports Net analyst Marques Johnson told Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic this week about the Wildcats:

“They’re the one team I don’t think will be as good as people are saying. … They’re a top five team (in the conference), but I don’t know if they’re a team that will be pushing for the conference championship this year.”

* * *

The national media thinks more of Arizona than the regional media, as Arizona debuted at No. 16 in the AP poll Friday morning.

The Cats also are 16th in the coaches poll, released last week.

Arizona has the highest ranking among Pac-12 teams, with UCLA 17th in the AP poll and Cal 24th.

* * *

Interviews with coaches and players will begin soon after 10 a.m., starting with Arizona State. Arizona coach Sean Miller and senior guard Kyle Fogg will take to the stage at about 1:05 p.m.

This will be the spot for updating notes and quotes from the festivities. The media poll is out. Here are my thoughts on the race:

1. Cal. The Bears have the best and most balanced starting five in the conference. There’s questionable depth, but no Pac-12 team is perfect.

2. UCLA. So big. I’m putting the Bruins over Arizona based on the fact the Wildcats can’t stop power forward Reeves Nelson, and UCLA should win both head-to-head matchups. Will guard play be the Bruins undoing?

3. Arizona. The Wildcats will eventually figure out their roles in the post-Derrick Williams era, but his automatic-points security blanket is gone — and that can’t be overstated at this time.

4. Washington. Like Arizona, the Huskies have a lot of good players under 6-foot-8 and their underclassmen will be fun to watch.

After that, it’s a scramble to be the best of the rest … and not very interesting.

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