PITTSBURGH — All the trappings of the NCAA Tournament and Division I college basketball aren’t lost on Southern Mississippi guard Neil Watson, who spent last season traversing the state of Kansas by bus while leading Coffeyville Community College to the Region VI title.
“It makes you appreciate all this nice stuff we have here,” said Watson, who leads the Golden Eagles at 12.2 points. “I have an arm sleeve that I needed earlier this year, which seems like a little thing but it was important.
“I appreciate all of this.”
Watson, from Kansas City, Kan., redshirted at Toledo two seasons ago and when a new coaching staff came in, he was given a list of Division II schools he could transfer to. Instead, he decided to take his chances with Coffeyville and coach Jay Herkelman, one of the winningest coaches in Jayhawk Conference history.
“One of the things I love about (Southern Mississippi coach Larry Eustachy) is how much he’s like Herkelman,” Watson said. “The way they run their practices, the way they motivate … that was important to me to go somewhere and play for somebody that was in that same mold.”
That’s not to say he misses small-town life in southeast Kansas. Or road trips to places like Iola, Great Bend and Garden City.
“I can’t say I miss Coffeyville itself,” Watson said. “But I definitely miss my teammates and the coaches and the school. (Coffeyville) was really good for me.”
All about Melo — The biggest story out of the East Regional — maybe out of any regional — has been 7-foot Syracuse center Fab Melo being ruled ineligible for the NCAA Tournament.
The reason for Melo’s absence hasn’t been made clear by the school, but the Big East defensive player of the year’s impact — 7.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks — can’t be denied.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said he found out Tuesday that Melo wouldn’t be able to play for the top-seeded Orange.
At Wednesday’s media availability, Boeheim gave several short, terse answers about Melo’s status before saying he didn’t want to comment on it anymore, although he continued to be peppered with questions about his star big man.
“Maybe someday I’ll write about it, I don’t really know,” Boeheim said. “I can’t talk about this … but I will say that (Melo) didn’t let anybody down, in my opinion.
“For him not to have the opportunity to play is disappointing for him, for me personally, and for the rest of our players.”
Syracuse faces North Carolina-Asheville today after the Southern Miss-Kansas State Mississippi game.
Ready to contribute — K-State guard Jeremy Jones hopes to be a difference-maker today. The junior college transfer hasn’t played much this season while resting up from a broken bone in his ankle. But he is healthy now and ready to contribute.
“Hopefully I get the chance,” Jones said. “If I do I’m just going to go out there and play my game.”
Jones is a talented three-point shooter. He has made nine in 19 games.
Old pals — Shortly after their game was announced on television, some players from each team were happy. They are familiar with each other’s roster.
Rodney McGruder and Jamar Samuels used to play alongside USM’s Darnell Dodson in high school. Same for Will Spradling and Neil Watson.
Dodson said he hasn’t spoken with McGruder or Samuels much over the past few years, but is looking forward to playing against them. Spradling texted Watson on Sunday.
“We are best friends,” Watson said. “It is going to be fun.”
Going to the league — Fans in Pittsburgh will have their fair share of NBA prospects to enjoy during today’s games, none rated higher than 6-foot-9 Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger, a lottery pick in almost every mock NBA draft. Teammate Dion Waiters also could be drafted.
West Virginia forward Kevin Jones, who had 30 points and 12 rebounds in a win over K-State at Intrust Bank Arena last November, also has pro potential.
Syracuse had a trio of pro prospects that quickly became a duo — forward Kris Joseph and guard Dion Waiters — after Melo was declared ineligible.
Gonzaga’s Robert Sacre and Elias Harris have also seen their names pop up in some mock drafts.