Illini need Brown on track

By wire services
Published March 24, 2005

A photograph of a celebrating Dee Brown tugging at the "Illinois" on his jersey while running down the court made Sports Illustrated's cover.

A fitting photo of the player coach Bruce Weber calls "the poster child for Illinois basketball."

Brown's steals helped beat Michigan State and Michigan. His shooting doomed Northwestern and Purdue, and the national sports magazine tagged Brown "The No. 1 attraction in college hoops" on the cover of the early March issue.

But things haven't gone as well since.

Brown played March 3 at Ohio State with a painful toothache that kept him from wearing his bright orange mouth guard. He shot 3-of-11 in Illinois' only loss of the season and followed that with a 4-of-24 performance in the Big Ten tournament.

After scoring 19 in the Illini's 67-55 win over Fairleigh Dickinson last week in Indianapolis, cramps forced Brown to the locker room two days later. He returned but wound up 0-of-4 in a 71-59 second-round win over Nevada.

"We just said we can't let it happen again," Weber said as he prepared for the Illini's region semifinal game against Wisconsin-Milwaukee tonight. "We can't have him cramping again and miss major minutes."

Brown had the toothache taken care of and says he feels fine. The only thing he has changed his cornrow hairstyle.

"I'm just ready to play," he said. "It's coming down to the last few weeks and you've just got to gut it out and play basketball."

When he hasn't scored, Brown has turned up his defense and looked to his teammates. He has 18 assists and six steals in his past five games.

NO OFFENSE: Kansas coach Bill Self apologized to Bucknell coach Pat Flannery after some of the Jayhawks didn't shake hands with the Bison after the No. 14 seed's upset win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

"I did not know this had happened until the next morning," Self said during a conference call. "I called Pat Flannery myself and explained it to him."

Only a handful of Kansas players stayed around for the traditional handshake last week when the Bison shocked the No. 3 seed Jayhawks 64-63. It was Kansas' first opening-round loss since 1978.

Self said one problem was that Bucknell's players did not all line up to shake hands after Wayne Simien's desperation jumper at the buzzer came up short. Instead, many ran onto the floor in celebration.

"Regardless of the circumstances, at sporting events win or lose, you should congratulate the other team after the game," Self said. "I don't think anybody would intentionally stiff anybody in that way shape or form. I'm not happy about that regardless of the circumstances."

CALL FOR UNIFORMITY: Arizona coach Lute Olson would like to see a change in the way college basketball is officiated.

His solution: End conference affiliations for referees and put them under the umbrella of the NCAA in perhaps a regional format. He said that way, especially in the NCAA Tournament, games would not be called differently to where some conferences allow more physical play and others don't.

"There is not going to be a level playing field with officiating until we get to eliminate the conference affiliations," Olson said. "The officiating is not going to be uniform until we put it under uniform control."

'CANES COACH REWARDED: Frank Haith, who led Miami to 16 wins in his first season as coach, signed a five-year contract.

Terms weren't released, but when Haith was hired last year, he signed a five-year pact worth an estimated $350,000 annually.

Miami went 16-13 this season and finished sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference, easily exceeding expectations in the school's first year in the conference. The Hurricanes, who came off consecutive losing seasons in the Big East, were widely chosen to finish last in the 11-team league.

"We are extremely pleased with the success of the men's basketball program this season and look forward to the program's continued growth," Miami athletic director Paul Dee said.

Haith spent 15 years as a college assistant before coming to Miami. His team beat three ranked opponents this season and reached the postseason for the first time since 2002, losing at South Carolina in the first round of the NIT.

GAELS COACH HOPES TO STAY: Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett plans to meet with athletic director Carl Clapp soon to work out a contract extension.

Bennett led the Gaels to their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1997, losing to Southern Illinois 65-56 in the first round Friday in Oklahoma City. Saint Mary's finished second behind Gonzaga in the much-improved West Coast Conference.

"We're working on that with Saint Mary's right now," Bennett said. "Everything sounds good. It's not done."

There has been speculation that Bennett's name would come up for vacancies at more high-profile programs.

Bennett made about $130,000 this season, one of the lowest salaries among WCC coaches. Saint Mary's would "redo the whole deal," Bennett said.

UMASS CHATS WITH FORD: Eastern Kentucky coach Travis Ford was interviewed for the vacant job at Massachusetts.

School officials confirmed that Ford, a protege of UMass graduate Rick Pitino, was in town to discuss the position that became open when Steve Lappas was fired last week.

"He's here, but we do not expect an imminent announcement," said Jason Yellin, a spokesman for athletic director John McCutcheon.

SOONER TO WAIT: Oklahoma forward Taj Gray will return for his senior season, passing on a chance to enter the NBA draft. The 6-foot-9 Gray averaged team highs of 14.6 points and 8.2 rebounds as Oklahoma won a share of the Big 12 regular-season title.