Tonight marks the official start of the 2013-14 NCAA Basketball season and with so many talented teams, it should be a memorable year. By now, you’ve probably heard the names Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Andrew Wiggins and you’ll soon see why those three lead the pack of one of the most anticipated freshmen classes of all time. To get you in the college basketball spirit, we spoke with Sports Illustrated writer and CBS college basketball analyst Seth Davis about which teams might make the Final Four, his new show with Campus Insiders and what he learned from his soon to be released book about UCLA legend John Wooden, Wooden: A Coach’s Life.
Vibe: When you spoke to University of Arizona’s head coach Sean Miller for The Seth Davis Show, you said Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State, Kansas, Duke and Arizona were on another level. Of those six, who do you see in the Final Four and who’s the eventual national champion?
Seth Davis: I have Michigan State winning the national title because they have the best combination of talent and experience. We know what kind of talent Kentucky has and they’ll be hard to beat, but Michigan State brings back Keith Appling and Adreian Payne. As long as they’re healthy, have to put them in my Final Four. But of course there will be a team in Dallas that isn’t in the top four now. No one had Wichita State in their Final Four at the beginning of last season.
Yeah and I love Tom Izzo (Michigan State’s head coach). I honestly don’t think any coach out-prepares him or does more with less come tournament time. I’d never bet against him. Which teams do you see making the Final Four?
I have Michigan State, Kentucky, Louisville and Kansas. Duke is at five right now and Louisville would be No.2 at if Chane Behanen isn’t suspended. But someone is going to pull an upset and make it. Maybe it’s Wichita State, it might be VCU; I’m a big Harvard guy and they’re bringing back two guys who were suspended last season.
As a Tar Heel’s fan it pains me to say it, but I like Duke for the same reasons you like Michigan State. They’re a veteran team and they’re adding Jabari Parker who’s probably the most skilled of all the incoming freshmen.
You know we can’t be friends now, right? (Laughs because he’s a Duke graduate.)
Nah, you’re good (laughs). Every so often I like a Duke guy for different reasons. I loved Kyrie’s game, I liked Kyle Singler a lot, I interviewed Ryan Kelly’s mom and she was so sweet I had to root for him. You make that list.
Oh, well thank you (laughs).
There seems to be a trend right now where a mid-major star to emerges into one of the best players in the country. Who’s this year’s Scott Machado (Iona College), CJ McCollum (Lehigh) or Damian Lillard (Weber State)?
This should be no surprise, but Creighton’s Doug McDermott has a chance to be really good. I don’t think people realize how big he is or how good he is. He could be like a Kyle Korver but with an even better skill set. The parallels are there: he’s from the same school, has a similar style of play, but he has a lot more tools and has a chance to be a good pro on the next level.
Also, I like Treveon Grant at VCU because he can score and uses his body well, and New Mexico’s Alex Kirk. If Kirk gets in a good pick and pop system in the NBA he’ll be a solid pro, because he’s so strong and can really shoot the basketball.
Recently you had coach Phil Jackson on your show and you asked him for a pretty direct answer about whether Kobe ran Shaq out of town. So as a Kobe apologist, I have to fire back.
Ok, go ahead.
Did that question come from more of just what you believed or observed and does Phil’s answer kind of put that part of their legacy to an end?
Well first off, I’m a Kobe fan. He’s a great player and you have to admire his will to get better and compete. But it’s pretty much historical fact that he ran Shaq out of town. There’s a detailed scenario In Phil’s book that proves this is a historical fact. His exact line was “I’m tired of being second fiddle to Shaq.” That’s why Shaq and Kobe didn’t talk for so long.
Well yeah, that’s true but I think Kobe looked at it like if he had to be in a duo, he wanted to go down as unquestionably the best duo of all time. He wanted to shatter anything that Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen did, anything that Magic and Kareem did and when Shaq came in to training camp out of shape and wasn’t really at his apex until February or March, Kobe couldn’t respect it.
You can make the case that the Lakers had to choose between the two of them and they chose the right one because Kobe was younger and they won two more championships with him. The reason I brought it up to Phil was because it speaks well of Kobe to realize he needed him to win and to not be angry after reading what Phil wrote in the book. Phil did make the point that Kobe was upset that Shaq came in to training camp without getting his toe taken care of before the season, so you have a point there.
With Sports Illustrated, broadcasting for CBS, what was unique about the opportunity that Campus Insider presented? Was it simply a chance to grow your brand? Moving forward with a show in the digital age?
All of the above. Campus Insiders is a great opportunity for me to stretch my wings. I’m a magazine writer, I like sitting down with people and drawing things out to tell their stories. I appreciate the chance to break out of college basketball and talk to football coaches, other writers and enter the NBA space. I’d like to find entertainers and politicians to interview too. The show is centered around a smart conversation with interesting people. Campus Insiders has given me that opportunity.
Let’s talk a little more about college basketball. Is it fair to compare this year’s freshmen at Kentucky to the Fab 5 of Michigan?
Well, ask me again in April. This group is absolutely capable of doing what the Fab Five did and anyone who thinks they’re not capable isn’t paying attention. But first they have to do it. Remember, that Fab Five team came back and made the Final Four again as sophomores and I doubt any of them (Kentucky freshmen) are back as sophomores. Coach Cal is hard to beat as a recruiter. DId you see he got Trey Lyles today?
He’s created a special culture for great players that want to be there. What’s underestimated is that it’s not like he rolls out the balls and lets them go.He teaches them and develops their talents. A lot of coaches don’t know how to coach great players, that’s a skill in itself and I think he has the best player of them all in Julius Randle who might be national player of the year.
I’ve been in a lot of debates about that. I like Randle, love Jabari and Wiggins is a freak, but I honestly think Arizona’s Aron Gordon might end up as the best pro. I know people say he doesn’t have a position and he’s not as big as Randle, but I was there at Hoop Hall in Massachusetts last winter when he dunked on (current BYU freshman center) Eric Mika. He can score on big bodies, double teams, can handle it OK, but that will come and he can shoot.
You don’t lose out between him, Randle, Wiggins and Parker. It’s like deciding what you want to drive, the Ferrari, the Maserati, the Porsche or the Rolls Royce.
(Laughs) Yeah, it must be nice to have one of them on the roster.
If I had to pick one freshman to win a college game tomorrow, I’m taking Randle. Between his size, amazing skill set and motor, he’s my choice. All those guys have some of that, but I don’t think Gordon is as big and strong as he is, Wiggins has his size but not mental toughness, Jabari can be a very good athlete but not the athlete Randle is. Gordon’s the better passer and who knows, maybe Gordon is the better pro five years from now. But if I have to win one game tomorrow, I got Julius.
Recently, I made a list of the 15 college freshman everyone should other than Andrew Wiggins. We won’t go through it all, but I’ll toss some names out there from it and you give me your first thoughts on them, cool?
Nigel Williams-Goss (University of Washington)
I was impressed you had him on your list. I saw him in Brooklyn at the Jordan Brand Classic and I loved him. He’s a big kid at his position and he really knows how to play the position. A lot of guys who play point guard are really two’s forced to make that adjustment in college but, he really knows how to play the point. He’s a real sleeper.
Rondae Jefferson (Arizona)
I saw him at Arizona. Not a great set skill, but definitely athletic. The Wildcats lack a guy who can make outside shots and he wont do that but he has a lot of upside.
Tyler Ennis (Syracuse)
I saw that (Orange head coach) Jim Boeheim made a comment that Ennis might not be as talented as other guys they’ve had in the past but, as good as Michael Carter-Williams was, the team might be better having a real pass first point guard controlling the ball.
Joel Embiid (Kansas)
It’s funny, with the whole Wiggins hype and people asking should the Lakers tank to get Andrew Wiggins, he might not be number one player picked in the draft. Embiid is 7-1 and unbelievably intriguing. Still he’s rough, not that polished but people like him.
One Shinning moment at the end of the NCAA tournament has become synonymous with CBS and March Madness. We get to watch and recap the triumphs and joys of the players, but what’s your personal “One Shining moment” career wise?
Well, to be able to work the NCAA tournament for CBS because, and I don’t like to use the word brand, but my brand is identified with the tournament. People have a special place in their heart’s for it and to be associated with it is a special thing. Also this biography of John Wooden is the best thing I’ve ever done and the best thing I’ll ever do. It’s rare to have subject matter this good and deep.
People tend to cross off coaches of that era but I think, with the social and racial issues of that time, they dealt with even more than coaches of today. Given what you now know about him, and not in terms of X’s and O’s, could coach Wooden still be himself and coach college basketball today?
It’s a great question. The easy answer is he’d be great, but the real question is how would he have wanted to do things in this era? He never recruited. In all of his years, he said he took maybe a dozen home visits. He never recruited because he enjoyed where he lived and he wanted to be home for dinner. His feeling was this (UCLA) is a great school, they should want to come here. That wouldn’t have gone over today and he certainly wouldn’t have won 10 NCAA titles, but his whole M.O. to define success wasn’t about the numbers on the scoreboard. He might have looked around and decided he wanted to coach in high school because he’d rather teach and he was great at that too.
“The Seth Davis Show” airs at 1:30 p.m. ET Mondays and Fridays each week on CampusInsiders.com. Here’s a peak at Seth’s sit down with Coach Phil Jackson, where the 11 time championship winning coach addresses Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse.