It was one of the most memorable recruiting trips Dick Davey has experienced at Santa Clara. In March 2001, he already had a letter of intent from Kyle Bailey but went on the road to get a firsthand update on the progress of the guard prospect.
"I was in a restaurant, having breakfast the morning of his game," Davey said. "I look outside and see a moose. That was an interesting experience."
The dean of West Coast Conference coaches, Davey is in his 13th season as head coach and 28th overall at Santa Clara, an hour south of San Francisco. Bailey is from the metropolis of Fairbanks, which would be a manageable drive to the Arctic Circle if the Alaska highway system didn't stop in his hometown.
Davey hit four airports -- San Jose, Seattle, Anchorage and Fairbanks -- to see Bailey. It wasn't the first time he headed north of the 48th parallel to find talent, and it wasn't the last.
Last season, the Broncos fortified their rotation by pairing Bailey in the backcourt with Doron Perkins, a junior college transfer raised in Anchorage. The most renowned player to come out of Santa Clara -- one who took down Maryland in the 1996 NCAA tournament -- is Steve Nash, a Canadian.
"We've all known for a long time that everyone produces players," Davey said. "There is no exclusion on where you are going to find them."
Duke's Mike Krzyzewski went to Alaska to get Trajan Langdon and Carlos Boozer. Bailey went up against Boozer, who's a year older, several times in high school. He could always find games at the local Division II branch of the University of Alaska, and Bailey's prospects were enhanced when a camp in Los Angeles before his senior year of high school turned into three weeks with a team on the Amateur Athletic Union circuit.
"There's way more people," Bailey said of living in Silicon Valley, "and everyone is in a hurry down here."
Bailey and the Broncos were too fast for North Carolina and Stanford, teams they beat in November, when Santa Clara, in particular, and the West Coast Conference, in general, posted victories that could resonate come March.
In recent seasons, the WCC has been Gonzaga and seven other guys, but the league has made a strong early case for sending not just two teams in the NCAA tournament, but perhaps three.
It has gone 3-3 against the Pac-10, as St. Mary's beat California. Three nights before it stopped Maryland, Wisconsin was undone by Pepperdine, which is off to a 7-1 start under Paul Westphal. Gonzaga has lost only to top-ranked Illinois, and when Mark Few's team beat Washington, the WCC joined the ACC and Big Ten as the only conferences with three teams that have beaten ranked opponents.
At Santa Clara (6-2), freshman Brody Angley has taken over at the point, freeing Bailey to set up on the wing opposite Perkins in a three-guard set. The Alaskans are averaging 9.8 and 14.6 points, respectively, and combine for 10.4 rebounds a game.
Travis Niesen, a 6-7 junior forward with a more traditional Southern California background, had 26 points in the North Carolina win. The Tar Heels were without point guard Raymond Felton, but then Santa Clara is still without Sean Denison, its 6-10 sophomore center, who's recovering from a foot injury.
Where's Denison from?
Missing in action
George Washington's performance in the BB&T; Classic wasn't all that surprising.
Paul Davis' play at MCI Center was.
Committed athletes and Karl Hobbs, a very hot coaching commodity, have the Colonials favored in the Atlantic 10.
Davis, Michigan State's junior center, vowed to average a double double after an unsatisfying 2003-04 season. He passed on trying out for a U.S. all-star team last summer and remained in East Lansing to get stronger.
He played strong in a Nov. 30 loss at Duke, but in the BB&T; semifinals, he was manhandled by GW's Pops Mensah-Bonsu. That squashed the Spartans' anticipation in a title game against Maryland, which would have allowed Davis to revisit what might be the high-water mark of his college career, a Sweet 16 game in March 2003 he took control of, off the bench.
That's where he found himself at the start of the BB&T; consolation game against George Mason, as coach Tom Izzo tries to right a big man and a team that hasn't regained the confidence it lost during last season's brutal non-conference schedule.
Michigan State was 5-7 at one point last January. Indiana, another Big Ten heavyweight, overscheduled this season, as the Hoosiers take a three-game losing streak to Kentucky on Saturday.
Given the parity in college basketball and the fact that three teams have already occupied the top spot, last week we asked: What's the record for most No. 1 teams in a season?
From December 1965 to January 1975, an era that included the UCLA dynasty, a total of seven teams had the No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press poll. That's how many hit the top in 1982-83, one of the wildest seasons the game has ever seen. In order, Virginia, Indiana, Memphis, UCLA, North Carolina, UNLV and then Houston topped the rankings. That's the season the Cougars were shocked in the NCAA final by sixth-seeded N.C. State.
The AP's No. 1 ranking, incidentally, has become the kiss of death in the NCAA tournament. Duke, in 2001, has been the only No. 1 entering the tournament since 1995 to win it all.
Current No. 1 Illinois, which downed Georgetown last night, figures to still be unbeaten when it goes to Wisconsin on Jan. 25.