PORTLAND — There’s an old line from Bill Parcells, that master of wit and wisdom, about the benefits of being a coach and a general manager in the NFL.
“If they want you to make the dinner, they should let you shop for the groceries,” Parcells said.
Or something like that. I’m paraphrasing here. But Parcells’ sentiment points out why college basketball fans throughout the Pac-12 are starving.
Much has been made about the Pac-12’s season-long doldrums. The conference spent the winter being to basketball what Nickelback is to music, and that lack of talent has resulted in no Pac-12 teams making it past the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.
Given the thrills that were doled out Saturday in the Rose Garden, with Indiana outlasting Virginia Commonwealth by two points and Louisville holding off New Mexico by three, that means we’re missing out. We’re missing out on top-notch college basketball, settling for a year in which Colorado’s lone NCAA victory is the conference’s crowning achievement for the season.
But as basketball fans in the region ponder their dismal fate, it’s instructive to recognize this: The problem isn’t in the cooking, it’s in the shopping.
Case in point: Peyton Silva. The quicksilver point guard went from Franklin High School in Seattle to the University of Louisville. He was the MVP of the Big East tournament a week ago, and now he has helped the Cardinals reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
And there’s Brad Tinsley, a starter for Vanderbilt out of Oregon City, Ore., who helped the Commodores reach the Round of 32.
And there’s Terrence Jones from Jefferson High School in Portland. He’s only one of the best players in the country playing for one of the best teams — Kentucky.
And there’s Kyle Wiltjer, a freshman out of Jesuit High School in Portland who plays a key role off the bench for the Wildcats.
And there’s Brian Conklin from North Eugene High School, the leading scorer on a Saint Louis University team that is in the Round of 32.
Take Silva, Tinsley, Jones, Wiltjer, and Conklin, and you have a tournament-worthy team.
But they’re all playing thousands of miles from home.
Not that the problem is limited to the Northwest.
In 2009, according to ESPN’s rankings, nine of the country’s top 45 recruits came from Oregon, Washington or California. One of them — just one — signed with a Pac-12 school, with the others going to the likes of North Carolina, Texas, and even Mississippi State. How a prospect from Southern California winds up at Mississippi State, we’ll never know. But it happened.
And therein lies the problem with Pac-12 basketball. While the game has gone global, recruiting has gone national. Top prospects compete for traveling teams, attend national summer camps, have highlights on YouTube, get ranked by national scouting services, and are within reach for coaches from all over the country.
No longer does a player from Seattle grow up dreaming only of the University of Washington. Now he might be fan of Duke or Ohio State, and that makes the recruiting pitch all the more difficult for the local coaches.
So, while the Pac-12 was an embarrassment this year, the problem can be fixed. Washington’s two best players — Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten — are Northwest products (and Jones originally committed to UW before heading to Kentucky). And Gonzaga has always had a strong foundation of local players during its run of 14 straight NCAA Tournaments.
But unless the coaches throughout the conference do a better job of shopping in their own neighborhoods, Pac-12 basketball fans will continue to go hungry.
Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne(at)columbian.com. Follow The Columbian Sports department on twitter (at)TalkPoints360.