After posting averages of 13.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots per game as a freshman, Baylor center Isaiah Austin was a player some expected to move on to the professional ranks. But Austin decided to return to Waco for his sophomore season, with an injured shoulder impacting the decision-making process. In early May Austin underwent surgery to repair a torn posterior labrum, with Baylor announcing that it expected the recovery to take anywhere from four to six months.
The minimum expectation was that Austin would be ready in time for the Bears’ season opener against Colorado on November 8, and on Thursday the school announced that the 7-1 big man has been medically cleared. Baylor, like many teams across the country, will begin practicing on Friday (some way wait until the end of the weekend or even next week to get going).
The return of both Austin and Cory Jefferson resulted in head coach Scott Drew having one of the nation’s deepest front courts. After being a reserve in each of his first two seasons at Baylor Jefferson took full advantage of the increase in playing time, averaging 13.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots per contest in 2012-13. Baylor also welcomes back sophomores Rico Gathers (5.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Taurean Prince (3.7, 2.2), and they also add Chad Rykhoek (he redshirted last season) and true freshman Johnathan Motley.
Given the amount of options (and talent) at Baylor’s disposal this season they’ll be fine inside, especially with Austin cleared to take the court. The biggest question for Baylor is whether or not junior college transfer Kenny Chery can pick up where the departed Pierre Jackson left off at the point. If so, Big 12 favorites Kansas and Oklahoma State will have some company in the race for the conference title.
With an 11-member setup the Sun Belt Conference has played a 20-game conference schedule the last couple of years, which may be seen as a positive when it comes to determining the regular season champion (home-and-home between every team). But for a conference that spans from North Carolina (Appalachian State) to Texas (UT-Arlington, Texas State) travel was far from easy in that setup.
And with Coastal Carolina joining next season, it was clear that the league needed to do something with its scheduling.
Thursday the Sun Belt members approved an 18-game conference schedule, which will begin with the 2016-17 season when the league consists of 12 members. Included in the agreement is the assignment of travel partners (similar to setups in the Pac-12 and Ivy League), and teams playing no more than three consecutive conference games on the road.
Schools will also be guaranteed at least five weekend home games during conference play, and there will be no more weekends in which teams play conference games both home and away (thus cutting down on travel). Obviously with the addition of Coastal Carolina the Sun Belt needed to make some changes in their scheduling, and this week the conference made the moves they needed to make.
Prior to a one-year stint as the head coach coach at Bowling Green that came to an end in early April as a result of an incident at a Bowling Green restaurant, Chris Jans was a member of Gregg Marshall’s coaching staff at Wichita State from 2007-14. During those seven seasons Jans was a key figure as the Shockers made the progression to a respected national power.
Jans is back in Wichita, with Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle reporting Thursday that he’s serving as a consultant to the program. Jans’ consulting agreement runs for 45 days, which the school can renew, and he’ll be paid $10,000 for the work. While Jans isn’t allowed to do any coaching, he can watch practices and provide Marshall and the coaching staff with his observations.
“He will be able to consult with the coaching staff, only on what he observes in practice,” said Darron Boatright, WSU deputy athletics director. “By NCAA rule, a consultant is not allowed to have communication with student-athletes … not about basketball-related activities or performance.”
While Jans (who according to the story has served in a similar role for another school) can’t do any coaching in this role, his return does give Marshall another trusted voice to call upon when needed. Wichita State bid farewell to an assistant coach this spring with Steve Forbes being hired as the head coach at East Tennessee State, with his position being filled by former Sunrise Christian Academy coach Kyle Lindsted.