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PACIFIC 10 BASKETBALL

Season hasn't begun, but Bruins dominate

October 31, 2008|Diane Pucin | Pucin is a Times staff writer.

Welcome to the Pacific 10 Conference's new men's basketball coaches.

Craig Robinson of Oregon State? You're picked to finish last, just behind the circuit's two other newcomers, Johnny Dawkins at Stanford and Mike Montgomery at California.

Guess there was a reason those jobs were open.

As for the top of the conference, there was a consensus among the media members who voted in the preseason poll, if not among the coaches.

Three-time defending champion UCLA earned 37 of the 38 first-place votes and 379 points overall. Arizona State, with returning stars James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph, received the other first-place vote and finished second with 325 points. USC was third with 292 points.

And USC's predicted finish comes with most of the voters not including Alex Stepheson, the North Carolina transfer who is hoping to receive an NCAA waiver that would make him immediately eligible.

Washington, Washington State and Oregon were picked in the middle of the pack.

USC Coach Tim Floyd wondered why Arizona State didn't get more first-place votes, opining, "I thought they should have had 15 or 20."

Washington State Coach Tony Bennett paid UCLA's Ben Howland a compliment when he was asked why the Bruins were such an overwhelming pick.

"My father [Dick Bennett] has coached against so many great guys and I asked him who some of the best were. He gave me two names. Charlie Spoonhour and Ben Howland. He loves Bob Knight and all those guys, but that's the kind of coach Coach Howland is," Bennett said.

Tributes

Howland and Floyd both suggested that the Pac-10 in some way honor recently retired Arizona coach Lute Olson this season.

"I always looked up to Lute as a young coach in terms of the classy way he ran the program and how he handled himself," Howland said.

Said Floyd: "We really should name an award in our league after Lute. I know how much John Wooden meant to this league, but coming in as an outsider looking in, I know I thought of Lute as the Pac-10 for a 25-year period.

"Nobody except Wooden has had that kind of success in this league."

Host with the most

Floyd told a story about this season's most renowned freshman, Percy Miller, who is better known by his hip-hop name, Lil' Romeo:

"We had some outstanding recruits in when USC played Ohio State [in football]," Floyd said. "Percy Miller is a great entertainer and he was with us when we took our five recruits out to dinner that night in a little place in Santa Monica.

"We were shooting pool, having dinner, and Percy wanted to host some players, take them out. Percy said, 'Coach, which two of those guys do you really want?' I said, 'I want that one over there, that one in the middle.'

"Percy said, 'Consider it done.' The guy [Miller] is worth a lot of money, so I said, 'Please, don't buy these guys.' That's the first time I had to say that to a player. You're allowed to spend $30 per player for the host, so I put three $20s in Percy's hand. He said, 'What's this for, Coach? Just keep your money.' "

He's left, all right

Oregon State's Robinson is best known right now as brother-in-law of presidential candidate Barack Obama, and Robinson spent most of his time talking about Obama rather than his players.

Robinson described Obama the basketball player:

"He is left-handed; he's a true lefty. He is a left-handed left-hander, so he's going left and if you stop him from going left he'll stop and shoot it," Robinson said.

Which led Montgomery to quip, "I can see what the headlines will say: Barack Obama is far left."

Dribbles and drabs

UCLA debuted Thursday at No. 4 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll. USC was No. 21. Arizona State, at No. 15, was the only other conference team in the poll. . . . Howland said center Alfred Aboya, who turned an ankle in practice Wednesday, would have an MRI exam and probably miss a practice or two.

--

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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