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October 9, 2008
The biggest event in the world on Tuesday happened in the building in which his team plays, but Belmont coach Rick Byrd wasn't on campus.
It's not that he didn't want to be there. But he actually hadn't been on campus for almost a week. Byrd was asked to vacate his offices and have his team practice elsewhere as the second presidential debate took over Nashville, Tenn., and, more specifically, the Curb Event Center at Belmont.
"We've been out of our offices since Thursday afternoon," Byrd told Rivals.com. "We've been out of our facilities, either one of them, and our weight room and training room the whole last week kids were in school.
"They're using all of that, even the rec gym and training room. I don't even know what they're using it all for. The weight room had a bunch of copiers and fax machines."
Byrd said the university administration had moved up fall break to Monday through Wednesday of this week to avoid the circus atmosphere that comes along with playing host to an event of this magnitude. He said his players have been gone since Friday. When they used their allotted team-workout time and individual-instruction time at the end of last week, they used high school gyms and the facilities at nearby Vanderbilt.
Byrd said he watched the debate, but he didn't ask about going.
"I think once everything was set up there was about 400 seats," Byrd said. "I didn't expect to be able to go. There were a lot of people on our campus and in town who worked hard to help with the event, and I hope most of them got to go."
Byrd said he and the team adjusted to being off campus just fine. If there is a residual recruiting effect for all of the national attention focused on Belmont that would suit him just fine.
"If you've been watching the national news, Belmont has been all over the place," Byrd said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It's great for our school. It's an honor and a privilege.
"It's definitely something we've made recruits aware of. They don't pick Podunk U to host a presidential debate."
Which 2000 presidential candidate did Michael Jordan endorse? (Answer at the end of the column.)
BIG 12 COACHES PICK SOONERS
If the Big 12 coaches' votes are any indication, it's a four-team race, but which will take the crown is anybody's guess.
Oklahoma was a narrow choice over Texas, which actually got one more first-place vote (four) than the Sooners. Baylor and Kansas tied for third in the balloting, with the Jayhawks garnering three first-place votes and the Bears getting the other two. Coaches are not allowed to vote for their own teams.
The first-place selection was a high-water mark for the Sooners, who had never been picked higher than second in Big 12 history.
"The coaches' poll is a perfect example of the depth of our conference," OU coach Jeff Capel said. "We are looking forward to an exciting league race."
Baylor also achieved its highest position in a coaches' vote at No. 3.
SHAKEUPS CONTINUE AT LOUISIANA TECH
One week after two players were dismissed from the team and eight days before the official start of practice, Louisiana Tech assistant coach Rennie Bailey abruptly resigned. Neither he nor the school gave a reason for his departure.
"I will always love Louisiana Tech, and I appreciate the opportunity Dr. (Daniel) Reneau has given me to work in the university and the basketball program," Bailey said in a news release.
Bailey played at Tech from 1980-84 and had been an assistant for the Bulldogs on Jerry Lloyd's staff in the early 1990s before returning last season.
"We appreciate Rennie's contributions to our program, and we wish him the best in his future endeavors," Tech coach Kerry Rupp said in the release. "We will move forward quickly and prudently in our search for a replacement."
Guards Jamel White, a Nebraska transfer who never took the court for Louisiana Tech, and J.C. Clark, who averaged 9.5 points per game last season, were booted from the team last week. White declined to discuss with Rivals.com what precipitated his departure and whether it had anything to do with Clark's dismissal.
Reached Wednesday, White said he had heard the news about Bailey but declined to comment. He added that he has not reached a decision on a school to which he will transfer but hoped to very soon.
The Bulldogs went 6-24 last season, including 0-12 on the road.
BRINGING HOOPS TO LUCAS OIL STADIUM
The third annual Hartford Hall of Fame Showcase will be held on Saturday, Dec. 6 and will be the first basketball event played inside the new Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, home of the Colts and site of the 2010 Final Four.
"To have an opportunity to go in Lucas Oil, which is becoming the premier place for pro football, and basketball and the Final Four, to be in there for this means a whole lot," Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said. "For Indiana to lead it off against Gonzaga, you can't put that into words. I think it's going to be one of those places that people remember they were and are proud that they were."
The spanking new structure was a big hit with Irish coach Mike Brey.
"I toured the facility and I had to stop and do a double-take," Brey said. "What a facility. I think our people will come out better than ever before in Indianapolis."
Ohio State coach Thad Matta echoed the excitement, while joking about the opponent for the Buckeyes.
"I think to be in the first game here is something that is going to be remembered for a long, long time," Matta said. "When they told us about this, I thought we had to be part of it. Then they told us we had to play Notre Dame, and we tried to get out of it."
TIP-INS: HARTFORD HALL OF FAME SHOWCASE STYLE
? Brey talked about stars Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney, but he mentioned an unsung senior as a player to keep an eye on. "I think Luke Zeller will have a big senior year. He continues to get better." Zeller (4.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg) could start in place of the departed Rob Kurz (12.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg).
? Crean made light of the fact his roster includes only one returning player, and even that one, Kyle Taber, will miss the start of practice after having surgery on his left knee. "You want me to talk about all of our returning players?? ? Our next big event is our next three weeks of walk-on tryouts."
? A couple of the coaches talked about the effect of the new 3-point line, now one foot longer at 20 feet, 9 inches. "I think it's great," Crean said. "I think it's really going to work well for Mike (Brey). To get Luke Harangody that much more room to operate on the inside. ... (I) also think it's good for a team like us that needs to use more of the drive-and-kick game. As time goes on I think it's going to be a good thing for college basketball." Gonzaga coach Mark Few has been watching his team closely from behind the line. "I've noticed from the individual work and looking at our percentages that it makes a difference. It kind of separates the real shooters from the wannabes."
? Matta on Buckeyes freshman center B.J. Mullens, the No. 1 recruit in the land according to Rivals.com: "He's bigger than Greg (Oden) and Kosta (Koufos). He's a very good athlete. I was looking up at him the other day and I was intimidated. He's got to get into shape and learn how hard he's got to play every possession. He's got a chance to be a great player."
Former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley was backed by Jordan in 2000. The All-American guard at Princeton lost out to Al Gore as the Democratic Party nominee.
Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.