In the wake of the mass murder at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in which nine innocent people were shot to death, the debate surrounding public displays of the Confederate flag has seeped into the arena of college sports.
The common sentiment of Southeastern Conference basketball coaches Monday in an SEC conference call was that the flag should be permanently removed in public settings. But there were some added caveats, including the symbolism inherent to the flag serves a historical purpose.
“The Confederacy means a lot in a very positive way to a lot of folks in the South and identifies the South in a historical sense,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl. “In other circles, it is not a positive … when something is offensive to somebody, I think it’s important to recognize that and take it down in public places.”
South Carolina coach Frank Martin also said the flag was not a completely negative symbol.
“It’s part of our history and a lot of our fabric,” Martin said. “It represents what people are willing to die for. We have to embrace both sides of it. That’s why I think there’s a place for that flag; in people’s private homes, in museums, but not in public places.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari took a more hard-line stance, mentioning his personal feelings about the flag , which is displayed in wider, more racially driven contexts beyond those that are purely historical.
“Obviously, (the Confederate flag) offends a portion of our society, so people are deciding to take them down,” Calipari said. “That’s how I feel. It may offend, so I’d say do it.”
Both the governors of Alabama and South Carolina recently said the flag should be removed from their respective state’s capitol buildings.
New faces, big names
The SEC added several high-profile coaches to its programs this offseason.
Former Texas head coach Rick Barnes, who went to the NCAA Tournament in 16 of his 17 seasons in Austin, was hired by Tennessee; 2006 NBA Coach of the Year Avery Johnson took the Alabama job; former UCLA head coach Ben Howland is now at Mississippi State; and Michael White replaced Billy Donovan at Florida after Donovan bolted for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
“I think it makes a statement that our league continues to pull itself up and upgrade as one of the best conferences in the country,” said Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson, formerly the head man at Missouri.
“I think it’s a statement (that) we’re serious about basketball in the SEC.”
For Barnes, the hires are a sign of basketball’s growth in the conference.
“It’s a league with guys that work hard,” Barnes said. “I think basketball in our league has a chance to go to a great height.”
Howland said the additions only add to the rise of SEC basketball.
“It’s exciting coming in with those three, in addition to the coaches that are already here,” Howland said. “We have some of the best coaches in the country in SEC men’s basketball.”
Usually in sports, older players provide guidance and leadership to the younger players.
But that’s not the case with this year’s Missouri team, coach Kim Anderson said.
“These guys have really brought a new energy level,” Anderson said. “They’re guys that are in the gym all the time. It’s a good mix of guys.
“I think our younger guys have had a good, positive influence on our other guys, and I think the older guys have responded well to that.”
This season, eight out of Missouri’s 12 players on the roster are either freshmen or sophomores.
Out of that group, Anderson said he is pleased that he will have Wes Clark back at full health by the time the season starts. Clark, a 6-foot guard, was Mizzou’s second-leading scorer (10.1 ppg) behind Johnathan Williams III, who transferred to Gonzaga last month.
Clark’s season ended Feb. 12 because of an elbow injury that caused him to miss the final eight games, in which the Tigers went 2-6 and lost in the first round of the SEC tournament.
Anderson said all players are on campus preparing for summer workouts, with the exception of Montaque Gill-Caesar and Russell Woods. Woods will be completing a junior-college course and is expected to arrive in August, while Gill-Caesar is nursing a bad back in Canada, where he was preparing to compete for a spot on the U-19 national team.
Previewing the upcoming season, Anderson said he expects the team to drive the ball to the basket better than it did a year ago. He also said his team’s lack of height will mean the Tigers will have to adjust to playing smaller.
“We’re not gonna be real big,” Anderson said. “We’ll probably play a bit more of a spread offense.”
Earlier this month, the NCAA instituted a variety of changes to make the game more attractive, most notably shortening the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30.
The adjustment invoked an array of reactions from SEC coaches.
For some programs, the change will have little effect.
“It won’t change much in what we do,” said LSU coach Johnny Jones. “We’re a fast-paced team and love to play in transition.
“I’m excited about the rule change. It’s not only beneficial to the teams but also for the fans, who can appreciate the style of play.”
South Carolina’s Martin thinks the rule change inhibits certain styles of play, which he said isn’t the purpose of college basketball.
“I’m not against a shorter shot clock,” Martin said. “The problem is, the shorter the shot clock, the more you limit the style of play. College ball is part of the experience part of what life’s all about — preparing young people for the next stage of life. With this, you limit them.”
Incoming SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said the process behind creating a shorter shot clock is a sign of progress in the NCAA.
“I thought the conversations leading up to it were constructive,” Sankey said. “The fact we’re open to change and sensitive to the comments about the game is a significant step.”