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by Bruno Conrad
Veteran analyst remains upbeat about Pacers' future
The dust is still settling from the furious first week of the NCAA Tournament, with brackets busted around the country. In other words, it's Clark Kellogg's favorite time of year.
"You'd be hard-pressed to have me come up with anything better," said Kellogg, in his 16th year with CBS, his second as the network's lead announcer for the tournament. "The anticipation, the excitement, the expectation, and then once the games start, the wall-to-wall basketball, the unpredictability that is inevitably part of the first or second days. And this year obviously we had some of the topsy-turvy surprises that you like to see."
A former Pacers player who has also served as an analyst on the team's local telecasts since 1990, Kellogg was in Jacksonville, Fla., for the first two rounds, where he watched Ryan Wittman, son of Randy Wittman, lead 12th-seeded Cornell past Temple and Wisconsin to the Sweet 16.
He's not sure if the upsets that marked the first two rounds will continue as the field narrows and the stakes increase.
"I think it's a first- and second-round trend," he said. "When you have as few dominant teams as we had on the landscape this year then typically teams are so bunched together that they can play above their seed line or get seeded a little too high. So you end up having opportunities for the kind of surprises we had.
"I thought that would be the case going in, and we still might have a surprise or two. But I did believe we would have some double-digit seeds emerge."
Four teams seeded at No. 9 or lower – Northern Iowa (9), St. Mary's (10), Washington (11) and Cornell – reached the Sweet 16. So did two Indiana teams pegged by many analysts as likely early upset victims.
Butler, however, beat Texas El-Paso and Murray State to advance to a matchup with No. 1 seed Syracuse in the West semifinals. Purdue knocked off Siena and Texas A&M and will face another No. 1 seed, Duke, in the South semis.
"I think Butler is really, really good," Kellogg said. "I was a little leery of the matchup with UTEP because of the athleticism but I also value the experience Butler's group had.
"Purdue is a team in transition and sometimes adversity and being framed as an underdog can be a galvanizing force for a team and I think you saw that … the Boilers were determined to keep their season going and prove some people wrong."
Staying positive about the Pacers
In his 20th season working Pacers games, Kellogg has been courtside for some of the worst, including a 43-point loss in New York on Jan. 3 and a 30-point loss in Miami on Jan. 19. Nevertheless, he remains upbeat about the team's future.
"I hang my hat on the positives," he said. "You look at the young players we have in Roy Hibbert and Brandon Rush. Despite Brandon's inconsistency I still think he has a chance to be a really productive player and he's shown flashes of that. I think Roy's improvement has been very, very impressive and encouraging.
"It's been a really difficult year. This team as made up needed every piece to be at its best in terms of health and production and that's not happened at all. … The margin for error was very, very thin and then you factor everything else that's transpired and it has made for a very challenging, difficult year."
As the Pacers head for their fourth consecutive NBA Draft lottery, Kellogg believes it's important for the franchise to remain patient with its rebuilding plan.
"I think this team has to get fortunate either in the free-agent market or in the draft, moreso in the draft because I think that's the way you have to do it," he said. "It's going to be fairly painful and slow but if the course is stayed and you get a break or two then this team is going to be fine in a few years.
"I don't know exactly how long, but I think a lot of what transpired this year is hopefully an aberration in terms of the guys that weren't available to play, the injuries and all of that stuff. Hopefully we can have a full complement of healthy bodies through the summer and into training camp and through the season and see who these guys can be."
Still Bullish on Hansbrough
The first Final Four he called for CBS produced a national championship for Tyler Hansbrough and North Carolina, giving Kellogg a rich perspective on the Tar Heel star's potential as an NBA player.
"I see him being a guy that's steady and solid," he said. "I think he's going to be a little better offensively than people think in time. He's got to learn where he can get his shots and how he can get his shots and where he can be most effective. But his motor, his body, his work ethic, his competitive spirit, all of that points to a very solid, long-time NBA player barring injuries – a guy who can help you win because he'll help set a tone."
Hansbrough missed all of training camp and the preseason recovering from a shin injury and has been out since mid-January with an inner ear infection and possible post-concussion issues, so his rookie season has basically been a wash.
"He's going to be a little better at finding ways to put the ball in the basket than people think," Kellogg said. "I don't know if he's ever going to be an aesthetically pleasing player but he will be an effective, productive, winning player. And you've got to have guys like that.
"I'm really disappointed he's had the setbacks that he's had but that happens and hopefully he can rebound and be 100 percent because I think he's an important piece going forward for the franchise."
Building a Kellogg dynasty at Ohio U.
Kellogg watched with piqued interest as 14th seeded Ohio University shocked No. 3 Georgetown in the first round of the Midwest Regional.
His oldest son Alex (a 6-7 forward) is with the Bobcats, sitting out this season after transferring from Providence. His youngest son Nick (a 6-3 guard) has signed with Ohio U., so the Kellogg brothers will be teammates next season.
"(Coach) John Groce, the former assistant to Thad Matta (at both Butler and Ohio State) in his second year there is really an impressive young guy in this business as a head coach," Kellogg said. "We've gotten to know him over the years and I'm thrilled for my boys and O.U. and Athens. I think he's going to be a star in coaching and to have a chance for our boys to develop under him on and off the court is really exciting for Rosy and I and I think they could be a rising team in the MAC.
"If you can be really good in a league like that and have a chance to play a good non-conference schedule, you have a chance to do some of the things Butler and Gonzaga have done over the last decade."
Daughter Talisa, a volleyball standout, recently was graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in communications. She's pursuing a coaching career.