News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 31, 2007

Given to Fly: Could Kelly follow Alford to Southwest?

By Craig Pearson

TERRE HAUTE — Former Marshall, Ill., high school standout Jake Kelly is considering asking Iowa for a release from his national letter-of-intent, according to an Associated Press report.

Kelly, a dazzling floor leader when we saw him in the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic as a freshman, is a 6-foot-6 guard who finished his prep career at Carmel.

Alford made what he called a “courtesy call” to Kelly the night he bolted Iowa City for the head coaching job at New Mexico. Kelly, who didn’t return messages to his cell phone, said in the AP report that he doesn’t want to “leave Alford hanging.”

That’s understandable. When players sign with a school, most of the time they are really signing with the coach who recruited them.

The player shouldn’t have to ask for his release from a letter-of-intent. It should be granted as soon as a coaching change is made.

In Kelly’s mind, he was going to play for an Indiana basketball legend in the Big Ten. Now he’s got a dilemma. Stick with a new coach at Iowa, who might not be familiar with Kelly, or follow Alford to New Mexico.

Kelly said he is taking a wait-and-see approach to see whom Iowa might hire. He could go an entirely different route and ask for his release and open recruiting to anyone. Someone close to Kelly told me that he has had a good relationship with Greg Lansing — a former assistant for Alford — who is listed as associate head coach on the updated bios on the men’s basketball home page.

Rumors have circulated that Creighton coach Dana Altman might be offered the Iowa job. Altman’s assistant Kevin McKenna arrival at Indiana State could be a sign that Altman is comfortable with the pay, job security and resources to succeed he has at Omaha, Neb., because McKenna would have to have been the favorite to take over the reins at Creighton.

But one has to think that it’s becoming a now-or-never time for Altman to step up into the Big Ten, where he could join a fraternity of some of the best basketball coaches in the country with Tubby Smith’s addition at Minnesota.

Another very good coach is considering a move to the Big Ten. According to a CBSSportsline.com report, Kevin Stallings is Michigan’s No. 1 target.

Stallings, a Purdue graduate and also a former Missouri Valley Conference coach at Illinois State, would definitely be an upgrade from Tommy Ammaker. After leading Vanderbilt to the Sweet 16 this year, Stallings’ departure could prevent the Wolverines from taking Chris Lowery from Southern Illinois.

I I I

• New ISU coach Kevin McKenna’s best line of Thursday’s press conference was that he, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson combined for 50 points a game during his rookie NBA season with the Lakers.

McKenna had many good things to say, especially about the style of play his team should bring to Hulman Center. McKenna said he learned a lot in his first coaching job — in the CBA for current Detroit Pistons coach Flip Saunders.

“I learned a lot from Flip Saunders in how to play the game, and play it really fast. This is going to be a really good thing. I think that we have a lot of pieces in place,” McKenna said.

One of the few games I got to watch last year’s team play this past season was the home victory against Purdue. The Sycamores pushed the tempo on the Boilers, but ISU defended well in that game to get those opportunities.

Gabe Moore, Harry Marshall, Marico Stinson and Cole Holmstrom are good enough athletes to push the tempo and get good shots. But that all starts with making plays at the defensive end.

It was hard to see coach Royce Waltman let go, especially with memories of two NCAA Tournaments as an ISU student. But he future looks bright with McKenna and Lansing.

It’s an excellent hire, but ISU’s best long-term hire might prove to be finding Ron Prettyman.

• Thatcher close to making cut — Former ISU pitcher Joe Thatcher appears to have a good shot for a job in the Milwaukee Brewers’ bullpen as was reported here two weeks ago. Thatcher is still in the major league camp, and the southpaw has pitched in four exhibition games. He has allowed four hits in 22/3 innings and struck out five. Thatcher has a 6.75 ERA.

The Brewers’ Web site reports that the last bullpen job is between three right-handers.

Craig Pearson can be reached by e-mail at craig.pearson@tribstar.com. Read his blog at blogs.tribstar.com/craigpearson