May 21, 2009

Peterson happy to return to Appalachian State

For the next month or so, there may not be a busier coach in college basketball than Buzz Peterson.

Although he took over as Appalachian State's coach earlier this month, Peterson will continue to serve as the Carolina Bobcats' director of player personnel all the way through the NBA draft on June 25.

It's a good thing Peterson who turned 46 on May 17 already is quite familiar with his new assignment.

This marks Peterson's third stint at Appalachian State, including his second as coach. Peterson worked as an assistant at Appalachian State from 1987-89 and began his head-coaching career there in 1996. Appalachian State was 79-39, won three Southern Conference North Division regular-season titles and reached the NCAA tournament in the last of Peterson's four seasons on the job.

That success made Peterson a target when Appalachian State started looking for a new coach after Houston Fancher resigned at the end of last season.

"We wanted to find the best-qualified person to energize our basketball program," Appalachian State athletic director Charlie Cobb said. "Without question and without reservation, that's what Buzz does for us."

The question was whether Peterson wanted to come back. He enjoyed working alongside Bobcats part-owner Michael Jordan, his close friend and former college roommate. And he didn't want to uproot his three school-age children in Charlotte. In fact, Peterson withdrew his name from consideration for the vacancy before the temptation to coach again caused him to change his mind.

"Whether it's on a simple bus ride, eating in a restaurant or whatever, I missed the time being around those guys," Peterson said. "And I missed being around young coaches."

The idea of returning to the place where he'd started his coaching career also appealed to him. Peterson left Appalachian State for Tulsa after the 1999-2000 season and led the Golden Hurricane to an NIT title in his lone season before getting hired by Tennessee. After going 61-59 and earning two NIT bids with Tennessee, Peterson was fired after the 2004-05 season. He then went 35-25 in two seasons at Coastal Carolina before moving to the NBA.

This time, he's thinking of Appalachian State as much more than a temporary home.

Whether it's on a simple bus ride, eating in a restaurant or whatever, I missed the time being around those guys. And I missed being around young coaches.
Buzz Peterson on returning to coaching
"I'm kind of at a different place in my career now," Peterson said. "It was 13 years ago when I first came there, and at the time, you're young and you're trying to catch that shooting star for a quick trip to the moon. Now, you're just looking for an opportunity to make a difference and a lasting impression."

Peterson plans to keep his family in Charlotte at least until his oldest daughter, a junior in high school, receives her diploma. That means Peterson is becoming quite familiar with the 115-mile drive from Charlotte to Boone, N.C., the home of Appalachian State. Those drives have shown him how much things have changed around Appalachian State since his departure. The school earned quite a bit of national attention after the football team's upset of Michigan and its three consecutive Football Championship Subdivision titles from 2005-07.

"I live here in south Charlotte, and every five or six cars I pass have an ASU tag or bumper sticker," said Peterson, who is renting an apartment in Boone. "It used to be you never saw that."

Peterson also has changed in his time away. He always knew about the value of communication, but the past few years gave him a whole new idea of how critical it was to a coach's success. Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt constantly preached that message during Peterson's time in Knoxville. After watching countless college basketball games as part of his job with the Bobcats, Peterson finally came to understand exactly what Summitt meant. Now he plans to spend as much time as possible with his players. Peterson said he believes that strategy could make the difference in crucial situations next season.

"I could go to a game and could tell you in the first half [which coaches] had a good line of communication," Peterson said. "With the players, you could see it in their attitude, the way they were reacting toward the coaches."

That strategy could help the Mountaineers earn the postseason bids that largely have eluded them since Peterson's departure. Appalachian State hasn't reached the NCAA tournament and has earned only one NIT invitation in the past nine seasons.

Peterson left Appalachian State immediately after getting the Mountaineers to the NCAA tournament in 2000. If Peterson gets them back to the NCAAs in the near future, he's much more likely to stick around this time.


Best class ever?

John Wall's decision to play for Kentucky puts to rest any doubt about which school has the nation's best recruiting class. The real question is whether Kentucky's haul is the best in history.

Wall, a 6-foot-1 point guard and the No. 1 prospect in the nation, announced his college plans after the nation's No. 2 recruit 6-9 power forward DeMarcus Cousins already had signed with Kentucky. The Wildcats also have signed 6-10 center Daniel Orton (the No. 22 prospect) and 6-1 point guard Eric Bledsoe (No. 23).

This marks the first time one school has signed four five-star prospects in a single class since Rivals.com began keeping track of basketball recruiting in 2003.

"The Fab Five at Michigan [that arrived in 1991] is pretty much considered the standard-bearer for the best college basketball recruiting class ever," said Jerry Meyer, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. "This Kentucky class matches up pretty favorably with that class."

The Fab Five delivered back-to-back runner-up finishes in the NCAA tournament before Chris Webber left for the NBA after his sophomore season. Juwan Howard and Jalen Rose followed him into the pro ranks after helping Michigan reach a regional final their junior year.

Whether this class can make a similar impact depends in large part on how long Wall and Co. stay in school.


Big loss for Sooners

Oklahoma's chances of returning to a regional final may have suffered a major blow with the announcement this week that 6-6 forward Juan Pattillo was dismissed from the team.

Although he didn't play in the first semester of the 2008-09 season, Pattillo developed into a nice contributor off the bench once he abandoned plans to redshirt. Pattillo averaged 5.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game, though he played more than 13 minutes in just one of the Sooners' four NCAA tournament games.

The bigger concern is that this represents one more frontcourt loss to go along with the departures of Blake Griffin and Taylor Griffin. The Sooners will need instant impacts from 6-8 center Keith "Tiny'' Gallon (the No. 9 prospect in the country) and 6-9 center Andrew Fitzgerald (No. 70).


Tip-ins

Duke swingman Gerald Henderson's decision to hire an agent and end his college career shouldn't have come as much of a surprise. Most mock drafts have Henderson getting taken in the first half of the opening round. The news also might not hurt Duke as much as you might think. Although Henderson was Duke's best player this past season, the Blue Devils still have plenty of talent at the wing spots. Duke's biggest problem remains its lack of elite players at point guard and center.

The bigger surprise regarding the NBA draft was Southern Miss guard Jeremy Wise's decision to hire an agent. Wise averaged 16.7 points and 4.7 assists per game for the Golden Eagles, but draftexpress.com and nbadraft.net project him to go undrafted.

The good news keeps coming for the SEC. Arkansas forward/center Michael Washington's decision to withdraw from the draft came after Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado and Kentucky's Patrick Patterson made similar choices. Earlier in the offseason, Florida forward Alex Tyus changed his mind about transferring. Washington, Varnado, Patterson, Tyus and Vanderbilt's A.J. Ogilvy could make the SEC one of the nation's better leagues for big men next season.

Any college basketball fan at least 35 years old probably already is well aware of how much the late Wayman Tisdale meant to college basketball in the early 1980s. For those fans too young to have seen him play, here's all you need to know: Tisdale was the first Oklahoma student-athlete in any sport to have his jersey retired, in 1997. "We have lost not only one of the greatest Sooners ever, but one of the all-time best people to walk the face of this earth," Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said Friday after Tisdale died of bone cancer at the age of 44.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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