Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Score One More for Norm As Wiggins Chooses Kansas

Andrew Wiggins' decision to attend Kansas can be attributed in part to assistant coach Norm Roberts, whose recruiting chops gain an even bigger reputation.  (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)

College basketball's version of "The Decision" reached its conclusion within the last hour, as Andrew Wiggins, the top-ranked recruit in the nation among the 2013 class, announced his decision to sign with Bill Self and Kansas, going to Lawrence while spurning offers from Florida State, Kentucky and North Carolina.  While the Canadian swingman hopes to follow in the mold of former great Kansas wings such as Paul Pierce as Self picks up yet another prep star, a large portion of the credit for Wiggins' commitment can be directed toward the eleventh-year head coach's longtime deputy, who; for all the knocks about how he failed as a head coach, has managed to be the backbone behind his boss' teams by being the point man in courting prospects.

Say what you want about Norm Roberts, and if you're a St. John's fan, chances are you have a laundry list of grievances to file with the former six-year head man of the Red Storm program; from what long-suffering fans have come to know as the "prevent offense," to his overly apologetic press conferences that almost always started with "give (insert team here) a lot of credit," but do not ever dismiss his eye for evaluating talent.  Even at St. John's, Roberts may not have brought any McDonald's All-Americans to Queens, but it was his group of recruits that ultimately led the Steve Lavin-coached Red Storm to their first NCAA Tournament since 2002, as D.J. Kennedy, Paris Horne, Sean Evans, Justin Burrell and Malik Boothe were all four-year student-athletes, (as were Dele Coker and Rob Thomas) while junior college transfers Dwight Hardy and Justin Brownlee were lured to New York by Roberts and right-hand man Glenn Braica, now the coach at St. Francis College in Brooklyn.

In two separate stints under Self, the players that Roberts has brought in have become bigger household names.  Let us not forget that the 2005 Illinois team that Bruce Weber took to the national championship game was comprised almost entirely of Roberts recruits, with Luther Head, Dee Brown, James Augustine, Roger Powell, and some point guard named Deron Williams; who would later go on to be the third overall pick in that summer's NBA Draft before enjoying an All-Star career with both the Utah Jazz and New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, all being recruited by Roberts to come to Champaign and play under him and Self before the two left for Kansas in 2003.

The players Roberts may not have directly been involved with, yet had a hand in coaching, also enhance his reputation as a talent developer and evaluator, as this third group includes Bradley Beal (Florida) and Ben McLemore, (Kansas) both of whom were; or most likely will be in McLemore's case, top three selections in the NBA Draft just as Deron Williams was in 2005.  In Wiggins, Roberts gets a wing he and Self can turn into a two-way player, whose already freakish athleticism and scoring potential will be greatly enhanced. In other words, think Tracy McGrady meets Vince Carter.

Long story short, the next time someone bashes Norm Roberts, you might want to mention what he has done behind the scenes that gets largely unnoticed.  Give the man a lot of credit for preventing his team from digging themselves in too deep of a hole.

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