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School's Swing Vote Saved Acc Expansion

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

  June 2, 2003 RALEIGH — What changed N.C. State's mind about expansion? Money, and the power that football now has at the school that first made ACC basketball famous.

What in the name of Everett Case is going on here?

Well, N.C. State was a key swing vote in the whole process. Everyone knew that Duke and North Carolina were against expansion, and the three schools that needed the most convincing were N.C. State, Wake Forest and Virginia, for political reasons.

Wake was convinced by the money projections, plus the additions of three other private schools. Virginia agreed to the process as long as it could make much noise about getting Virginia Tech into the league, which it knew had almost no shot of happening.

That left N.C. State chancellor Marye Anne Fox in position to make a huge decision, a role she has relished in her five years as the school's CEO.

Fox got heavy input from athletic director Lee Fowler and football coach Chuck Amato, both strong supporters of expansion. Herb Sendek, like most of the basketball coaches, reportedly wasn't all that keen on the idea.

Fowler, who has chaired the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, realized early on that having 12 teams and getting rid of the double round-robin regular-season schedule would help the ACC much more than it would hurt. That's something ACC commissioner John Swofford spent much of his presentation explaining to the basketball coaches, who have long griped about the fact that the ACC didn't get enough credit for playing each team in the league twice in a season.

So Swofford convinced the basketball coaches that, by doing away with the round-robin, the 12-team ACC also could get seven or eight teams in the NCAA Tournament. Amato, like most of the league's football coaches, saw many advantages in having a 12-team league in football, for the championship game it will bring and the doors it will open in recruiting.

Amato's one and perhaps only reservation was that he (understandably) didn't want to be placed in a division with both Miami and Florida State, but the coach wasn't scared of how the addition of the Hurricanes might affect his powerful recruiting base in south Florida. That's a region the Wolfpack has mined successfully ever since Amato was hired.

In fact, in Amato's mind, adding Miami would only help his recruiting down there. Will he win a lot of head-to-head battles? Probably not. But Miami can't take all of the good players in south Florida, and Amato figures he could mop up on the athletes who are jilted by the Hurricanes with the promise of playing the hometown team every year and perhaps even two guaranteed trips (over four seasons) back home. It's a formula that helped turn FSU into a college football dynasty, and Amato was a big part of that.

And don't forget, a big part of the expansion equation is the addition of Syracuse and Boston College, two schools that don't exactly put a lot of fear into the current roster of ACC football coaches. What they like, however, is opening up the Northeast recruiting market to a southern football conference.

Powell Enters Risky Territory

Wolfpack forward Josh Powell certainly will be worth watching over the next several months, and one can only hope that his troubling story has a happy ending.

Powell, who came on strong at the end of the 2002-03 season and would be one of the top big men in the ACC next year, announced his intention to test the NBA waters soon after final exams were over. He did not immediately sign with an agent, however, at least temporarily leaving a door open for his return. Georgia Tech freshman Chris Bosh, who likely will be among the first 10 players taken, was the ACC's only other early entry this year.

From the start, there was reason for concern among Wolfpack fans. According to sources, someone convinced Powell that he could be taken in the first round even if he didn't get an invitation to the pre-draft combine in Chicago. (He later did receive one of the 60 available slots.) According to more than a dozen NBA sources, that proposed scenario was a complete fabrication, and it should have been a warning sign that Powell was getting questionable advice.

“Maybe it will work out OK because he got an invitation, and if he does well (in Chicago) anything can happen,” one NBA source said. “But I can tell you that as recently as (early May), when he was probably getting his advice, there wasn't a single NBA person I know who had Josh Powell on their radar screen for the first round. Now maybe that will change, but anyone who told him (in April) that he was a sure-thing first-rounder was playing a very dangerous game and putting that kid's future at risk.”

Powell improved dramatically as a sophomore, after a rigorous workout regimen added some 20 pounds of muscle to his frame, but he still is lacking some basic skills. Even those NBA scouts who like his long-term potential — “if you're a 6-9 athlete who can run and defend and hit the open 20-footer, you definitely have a chance” — said they recommended another year in college for Powell.

Interestingly, the same website (nbadraft.net) that listed Powell as a late first-round pick at the time of his decision to apply for the draft later downgraded him to the middle of the second round. If that move proves prophetic, it would be very bad news for Powell.

Under the NBA's rookie salary scale, first-round draft picks receive guaranteed three-year contracts with team options for two additional seasons. This year, the last pick of the first round will receive more than $2.2 million over the first three years of the deal. The first pick of the second round has no such assurances, although in rare cases second-rounders have negotiated guaranteed deals. If a typical second-rounder has a bad training camp and gets cut before his rookie season, he's left with no money, no degree and no remaining college eligibility.

Here's another frightening fact, especially if Powell stays in the draft but falls out of the first round. Of the 48 former ACC players in the NBA during the 2002-03 season, 39 were first-round draft picks, eight were second-rounders and only one (former UNC center Scott Williams) was a free agent. Duke guard William Avery is out of the NBA just four years after turning pro as a sophomore in 1999, but as a first-round pick he had long-term financial security from the moment he signed his first contract.

“These kids all want to think that none of this other stuff matters, that if they're good enough it will all work out in the end,” the NBA source said. “For some people, everything works out OK no matter where they're drafted. For most people, though, it's a very long and difficult road if you're not a first-round pick. That first round offers security, and it's definitely worth waiting if another year of seasoning would put you in that (first-round) position instead of coming out on a hope and a prayer.”

Although early entries have until June 19 to pull their names out of the June 26 draft, sources close to Powell said in early June that he was almost certain to remain in the draft, barring a disastrous experience at the June 3-7 combine in Chicago. There, prospects are permitted and encouraged to get first-hand feedback from NBA scouts and general managers, in a system designed to limit the impact of the inevitably optimistic input from unregulated street agents and other potentially unscrupulous advisors.

Some underclassmen turn pro because of extreme family circumstances, academic problems or immediate financial needs. But there apparently are no such problems with Powell, a very good student who arrived at N.C. State as a skinny, underdeveloped post player who had never been in a weight room in his life. Now, he's bulked up and much better than when he first landed in Raleigh, and he's accomplished in the classroom as well.

It all adds up to a very curious situation. Of the last 21 ACC players who turned pro with eligibility remaining, 14 were first-team all-conference selections and five were second-team picks. (The exceptions: Duke freshman Corey Maggette and Georgia Tech sophomore Dion Glover, both in 1999.) Despite his strong finish, Powell didn't even make the league's third team last season. Stay tuned.

Bethel Will Fill Void, Eventually

After seven years of primarily being an exporter, Sendek finally imported a player from another program, someone who will fill a void that has been open for quite some time.

Sendek, who has had more than a dozen players leave his program in seven years, apparently didn't need long to convince former Georgetown point guard Tony Bethel to join the Wolfpack. Bethel, a high school teammate of current Wolfpack forward Levi Watkins, started every game for the Hoyas as a sophomore and averaged 10.5 points during his two-year stint there.

The 6-2, 175-pound guard certainly is a welcome sight in Raleigh, even though he can't play next season under NCAA transfer rules.

Sendek has been after a quality point guard for years. He missed out on John Gilchrist, who seemed like a sure bet to join the Wolfpack before he switched and went to Maryland. The Pack lost out on the Mustafa Shakur sweepstakes, when the Philadelphia point guard chose Arizona.

Trouble is, starting point guard Clifford Crawford is gone and rising sophomore Dominick Mejia, a last-minute recruit at the point after Gilchrist spurned the Pack, saw little significant action last year. Bethel will have to sit out next season, meaning he can't fill the Pack's biggest void until the 2004-05 season.