Basketball: Pac-10 media day highlights

A few odds and ends from Pac-10 media day:

— Arizona State coach Herb Sendek, whose club just missed becoming the seventh Pac-10 school to earn an NCAA tournament berth last season, is predicting big things again from the conference.

“I expect our league once again to be among the top couple in the country,” he said. “I don’t think it would be a stretch for us to have as many teams, or even more, than we did last year in the NCAA tournament.”

Actually, that would be a stretch, but that’s the kind of hyperbole that coaches feel compelled to deliver at these preseason events.

The fact is, the league was hit hard by departures to the NBA last spring. Seven of the top 21 draft picks were pac-10 players and 12 of 60 players drafted overall — 20 percent of the draft — came from the conference.

“Last year was a phenomenal year for the conference,” said new Cal coach Mike Montgomery, who spent 18 seasons at Stanford. “It’s hard to argue there’s ever been a better year than last year as far as the amount of talent top to bottom.”

USC coach Tim Floyd, whose Trojans were picked third in the Pac-10 behind UCLA and Arizona State, had no argument with the Bruins securing 37 of 38 first-place votes from the media.

“They’re the measuring stick right now,” he said. “They’ve been to three Final Fours in a row, they have a system of play that’s difficult to play against, and they’ve had outstanding guard play all three years.

“I think it’s great when UCLA’s great, because if you beat them it really helps you,” Floyd added. “We need for UCLA to be agreat, and I think they’re going to be great again this year.”

— Most coaches will decline at this point in the preseason to project even a tentative starting lineup. But UCLA coach Ben Howland said his is pretty much set, barring something unforseen: Alfred Aboya at center, James Keefe at power forward, Josh Shipp at small forward, Jrue Holiday at shooting guard and Darren Collison at point guard.

— USC lost freshman O.J. Mayo to the NBA after one season, but don’t feel sorry for Floyd. The coach has reloaded with DeMar DeRozan, a 6-foot-7 freshman forward from Compton, who scored 29 points last weekend in a USC intra-squad scrimmage.

“DeMar is as talented as any freshman I’ve ever been around. He’s maybe the best athlete I’ve ever coached,” said Floyd, who is beginning his 16th season as a college head coach and spent parts of five seasons as a head coach in the NBA. “In addition to that, he’s a great basketball player. He’s a great learner, a great listener. I think the sky’s the limit for him.”

— New Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said he’s not sure if a secret service detail will be assigned to Corvallis if his brother-in-law, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama wins on Tuesday. But his preference would be no.

“I’m lobbying – pun intended there – to not have security,” he said. “It sounds like a cool thing. But its an extremely intruvsive phenomenom.”

–Interim Arizona coach Russ Pennell, replacing the legendary Lute Olson, said he understands recruiting will be extremely difficult until the university hires a permanent head coach.

“We can’t tell a recruit who’s going to be the next coach,” he said. “We just put the University of Arizona in front of them. It has been a basketball power for the last 25 years, and there’s still a lot of advantages of being at University of Arizona. Our job is to try to hold serve.”

But all three recruits from their Wildcats’ class of 2009 have de-committed and the mother of freshman center Jeff Withey told the Arizona Daily Star her son is quitting the team.

Olson retired last week after 24 seasons, and his doctor on Monday said the coach suffered a mild stroke sometime in the past year.

Jeff Faraudo