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May 15, 2008

Officials to watch palming, illegal screens

The NCAA Basketball Rules Committee will make illegal contact in screening situations and palming points of emphasis for the upcoming season.

After looking at several proposals in its annual meeting, including widening the lane, the group came up with few changes. The only one of note has to do with goaltending. If approved by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which will meet by conference call June 5, it will be goaltending if a player touches the ball "when the entire ball is above the level of the ring during a field-goal try and contacts the backboard."

When it comes to screens, the NCAA release said the committee is concerned about the "illegal contact occurring at the basket area, especially the charge, block and player-control fouls. Also, the committee believes that rough play and illegal contact need to be addressed throughout the game."

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings believes on-ball screens have become a problem.

"I think that on-ball screening has become something that our officials have not been accustomed to having to call in the variety of ways that we're seeing on-ball screens set right now, and as a result there are a ton of illegal ball-screens set that are going uncalled," Stallings said. "If they do a better job of officiating the illegal contact on all on-ball screens, then I think that would be good."

Stallings also believes palming is a solid point of emphasis, if called consistently.

"I think the problem with palming is that you'll get officials who will say, 'Well, it didn't create an advantage,' " Stallings said. "OK, well, it didn't in that particular play but if it's not called on the next play to me if you palm it, carry it, whatever, first of all it needs to be called. It doesn't matter if it creates an advantage. If it's a rule it's a rule, so call it. Second, they say it didn't create an advantage, but what it does is when a kid is allowed to get away with it, it puts the defensive player on his heels because if he feels like the offensive player can carry the ball and get by with it, he has to give him more space defensively.

"It just needs to be called on a consistent basis and then it will stop."

Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating said both points of emphasis have been emphasized in the past. "I feel like I'm in a time warp and we're talking in 1999," he said. "I don't know why emphasis keeps being placed on these when they seem to be repetitive. I don't really honestly see those as a problem.

"It seems more like these steps aren't to bring awareness to what hasn't been done but to keep the focus on positive steps."

Neither coach had a problem with last season's major point of emphasis, staying in the coaching box. Stallings admitted to having an unfair advantage at home when it comes to the coaching box as the benches at Vanderbilt's Memorial Gym are along the baselines.

"Officials are trying to figure out where our box is all the time," Stallings cracked.


Stallings is bringing in what Rivals.com recruiting analysts say will be a possible top-15 class, which easily would be his best in the rankings during his tenure at Vanderbilt. It consists of four four-star prospects, each in the Rivals150: point guard Brad Tinsley (No. 93 overall, No. 16 at his position), power forward Steve Tchiengang (87th, 27th), and small forwards Jeff Taylor (52nd, 10th) and Lance Goulbourne (72nd, 12th).

How did he do it?

"It certainly has to do with the successes we've experienced as a program the last four to five years (including three NCAA Tournament appearances and two Sweet 16s)," Stallings said. "It also helps when guys can look and say, 'Well, they've had the last two players of the year in the league (Derrick Byars and Shan Foster), and you go there and guys get better and you have a chance to play and show what you can do and have success.' "

Stallings diplomatically said it was too soon to say which player would have the greatest immediate impact, but Taylor is the highest-ranked player, and with the departure of Foster, Taylor certainly looks as if he'll have every chance to start from Day One.

"We've really helped ourselves," Stallings said. "We have four quality guys who are going to come in and impact our program hopefully sooner rather than later. I think so much of who emerges depends on need.

"The person who impacts the quickest is not always the one who impacts the most over time. Sometimes it is, but I think all four of them are capable of coming in and having an impact next year. I'm not saying all four will, but I think all four are capable."

Not to be forgotten in the class is redshirt freshman Festus Ezeli, a 6-11 center with a 7-5 wingspan. Ezeli has been clashing in practice for the past year with A.J. Ogilvy, and Stallings says Ezeli, a Nigerian, has made great strides and should provide a major presence defensively.


Alcorn State turned to a legend to take over the reins of its program when Larry "Mr. Mean" Smith was hired as coach.

Smith, 50, was a two-time SWAC Player of the Year during his time with the Braves. He spent 23 years as a player and assistant in the NBA, and most recently was working as an assistant to Michael Cooper with the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks.

Smith averaged 6.2 points and 9.7 rebounds in his NBA career, most of which was spent with the Golden State Warriors. He ranked in the top 10 in the NBA in rebounding for five seasons during the 1980s.

One interesting note about his hire is that Alcorn signed him to a four-year deal with a base salary of $125,000. It's roughly $50,000 more per year than his predecessor, Samuel West.

"I have to thank alumni for making that happen," Alcorn State athletic director Darren Hamilton told the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion Ledger . "It is important when you make that kind of statement. It becomes a commitment from the institution that says we're about retention. We want to retain you because we have a long journey ahead of us. ... In that regard, we have to compensate accordingly."

Knowing some schools made hires this offseason based on not having to pay exorbitant salaries, it's nice to see a program such as Alcorn pony up to get a coach who looks like a great fit.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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