Last Sunday, at Madison Square Garden, Coach Mike Krzyzewski became the first Division 1 men’s basketball coach to reach 1,000 wins.
Last Sunday, at Madison Square Garden, Coach Mike Krzyzewski became the first Division 1 men’s basketball coach to reach 1,000 wins.
Former Omagh Thunder and Belfast Star baller Oisin Kerlin has been plying his trade in London now for almost 2 years at the prestigious Barking Abbey Basketball Academy.
Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant throws down a huge slam in the second half of the Irish’s 83-76 win over Georgia Tech.
Ask a fan of American men’s college basketball who the best conference in the land is, and you’re likely to hear one of two answers: the Big Ten (consisting of schools mostly in the Midwest) or the Atlantic Coast Conference (consisting of schools mostly along the East Coast).
The two conferences have been doing battle for the past fifteen seasons by matching up one school from each conference early on in the season. The ACC holds a significant advantage over the years, and in addition to their regular powerhouses of Duke and North Carolina, the conference has recently picked up Big East defectors Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Notre Dame. Last year’s national champion, Louisville, is on its way.
Still, this year the two conferences tied at six wins apiece. This year’s highlight was unranked North Carolina’s upset over top-ranked Michigan State in Chapel Hill, 79-65. The match-up brought together arguably two of the best college basketball coaches in Tom Izzo and Roy Williams. Williams’ big win calls into question just how good this UNC team is, as they also have inexplicable losses against Belmont and the University of Alabama-Birmingham to date. Michigan State hadn’t lost before falling to the Tar Heels.
It didn’t matter. The two teams battled to a 32-32 halftime tie, but from there it was all the home team. Kennedy Meeks came off the bench to lead a very balanced attack with 15 points and seven rebounds.
Other big match-ups included Michigan at Duke, Indiana at Syracuse, and Notre Dame at Iowa. The ACC’s Duke and Syracuse won their games, while the Big Ten’s Iowa also won.
It’s that time of the year. In my opinion, the best time of the year in the sports world. The pairings have been announced, brackets are being printed as I write, and casual pools entered with plenty of money at stake. But how to fill out your bracket? Maybe you’re a basketball fan, maybe you’re not. Neither guarantees success or failure with your bracket, and besides, it totally depends on the year anyway.
At the risk of jinxing myself, I’ve had some success in recent years, even come out ahead financially a few times in pools. Here are a few loose rules I follow when filling out a bracket:
1. Don’t obsess over it. During the regular season, I watch my team—Notre Dame—almost exclusively. I check scores for other big games. Conference Tournament week, I watch as much as possible to see who’s peaking and who is falling, which key players are injured, etc. Beyond that, I do not do much “research.” I once heard Skip Bayless lament over how much research he did for a particular game, and how it led him to believe there was no way one particular team could win. Of course that team won. You can’t explain that. If things always went like they were supposed to, number one seeds would always end up in the Final Four. That certainly happens every once in a while, but most years it doesn’t.
2. Pay attention to trends and injuries, especially late in the season. It’s not on common for a team to peak too early, look great or even unbeatable early on, only to get bounced early in the tournament. I have my eye on Michigan this year as a potential to do just that.
3. Know some tournament history and coach records of success and failure. Tom Izzo (Michigan State), Mike Kryzewski (Duke), Billy Donovan (Florida), Brad Stevens (Butler), Shaka Smart (Virginia Commonwealth), Thad Matta (Ohio State) Rick Pitino (Louisville), and Jim Boeheim (Syracuse) often advance deep into the tournament. Bo Ryan (Wisconsin) seems like a perennially Sweet 16 kind of guy, which is no small feat. For whatever reasons, Jamie Dixon (Pittsburgh) and Mike Brey (Notre Dame) have not fared all that well in the tournament. Coaches like Mark Few (Gonzaga), Bill Self (Kansas), Roy Williams (North Carolina) and Jay Wright (Villanova) are a little more difficult to predict because it has gone both ways: deep runs and early exits.
4. Respect both talent and experience; both can win in the tournament. In terms of experience this year, Butler, Florida, and Louisville stick out to me. Talent-wise, you’ve got to respect the heck out of a team like Indiana.
5. Pay attention to match-ups. What styles do various teams play? Do they get out and run a lot? Do they rebound well? How tall are they? Do they rely on one star are on balanced scoring? Do they play slower, low-possession games? Do they play man or zone defense? Do they win in close games or blowouts? I don’t pick a champion until I see a bracket because match-ups matter so much.
6. Pick some upsets, but don’t go crazy. What makes this tournament so fun is the Cinderella stories, but the higher seed still wins most of the time. Balance is good. Don’t pick all number one seeds to the Final Four, but pick at least one or two.
7. Make your team lose early. This rule does come from a lot of past heartache with Notre Dame. They always get my hopes up and then crush them with an early loss. But by knocking them out early, my judgement becomes more objective. And now, if they “ruin my bracket,” it will be a good thing, not a bad thing.
8. Most of all, go with your gut. Malcolm Gladwell has written an excellent book about this. It was my gut that told me in 2010 that Butler was a Final Four team. Now admittedly sometimes our instincts fail us. But that’s part of both the fun and frustration of this thing.
In case you’re wondering, here are my picks for this year’s tournament, on the record. Final Four: Louisville, Ohio State, VCU, and Indiana. In the final, I have Louisville over Indiana in a close one. Feel free to track me as the tournament progresses!
This week I find myself in Atlanta, sadly not courtesy of TCC but rather for a conference for my “proper” job. Last night, short of alternative options, I made the relatively smooth journey into downtown Atlanta to take in the ACC clash between Georgia Tech and Maryland.
The Yellow Jackets, also known as the Ramblin’ Wreck (they have way too many nicknames) play at the Hank McCamish Pavillion, on the north-western corner of their downtown campus. It’s a short walk from the MARTA (the Atlanta underground/tram system) stop and despite being a downtown campus, Georgia Tech is actually quite a charming part of Atlanta. I can’t attest to how safe the fringes of campus are, but I didn’t see anywhere that looked all that dangerous at all.
This season, they were an unimpressive 4-10 in conference play (14-12 overall), but the Yellow Jackets haven’t been all that good for a couple of years. Their last NCAA tournament appearance was in 2010 when they featured Derrick Favors, Gani Lawal and Iman Shumpert. All three found themselves int he NBA, although Lawal now plays in Rome.
Their current team features a cast of pretty decent, but unspectacular players. In particular, they have a big man of real quality in redshirt junior (meaning he has an additional year of eligibility after his senior season), Daniel Miller. Miller is an unfortunate victim of circumstance. If he was 15 years older, he would currently be enjoying his retirement from a solid journeyman career in the NBA. He stands at 6’11” and has decent athleticism, good hands and hits 3/4 of his free throws. There is no way, for example, that he is significantly worse than, say, Aaron Gray. His problem is that he’s not a great athlete. Sure, he runs the floor well and plays good defence, but the demise of the traditional centre position in the NBA seems likely to cast him overseas should he wish to continue playing basketball beyond his NCAA eligibility.
Slightly more highly rated than Miller, is Robert Carter, Jr. He is a 6’8″ forward with strength and hops. As a freshman, he seems likely to flirt with the NBA at some point in his basketball career. How close he comes is really up to him.
By contrast, Maryland stood 7-7 in the ACC and 19-8 overall prior to last night’s contest. They have a legitimate NBA prospect in 7’1″ Ukrainian big Alex Len; Olexiy to his parents. He missed a significant chunk of his freshman season thanks to eligibility issues at the NCAA (what a load of nonsense that this organisation which exploits young sports stars in such a cynical manner should see fit to cast aspersions on someone who would want to ply his trade at the collegiate level) and his introduction during conference play gave his freshman season a rather disappointing tint. This season, however, he has developed somewhat and gives the Terps a solid 12 points and 8 boards per game. He is a little one-dimensional offensively (always goes right) and perhaps lacks the serious athleticism which would see him really excel at the professional level, but he blocks shots well and looks likely to go in the lottery during the upcoming NBA draft.
Other decent prospects in black (and yellow and red) include centre Shaquille Cleare, forward Jake Layman and guard Nick Faust. All four played pretty well, but were ultimately unsuccessful against Georgia Tech.
The game started with the sides trading baskets but Tech led 38-33 going into the break. Coming back from the half time team talk, however, the Yellow Jackets were paced by guard Brandon Reed’s sharp shooting and Miller’s strong defence and ultimate ran into a double digit lead which they would not relinquish. Miller was particularly impressive with a perfect 12-12 from the charity stripe and three blocks, including an early block on the taller and more athletic Len. Len performed reasonably well, but often found himself outmuscled by Miller on the block. Maryland’s inability to adjust its strategy according cost them, even though they fell victim to an unusually strong shooting performance from Tech.
Final score Georgia Tech 78-68 Maryland.
I’m back in America after a short visit home, which was great. A big shout-out to Mike Calo and Paddy Junior McGaharan for training with me for the past month.
Pre season is tough over here! We have 7am conditioning every morning, which is consists of us doing the insanity workout. I don’t know if they have it at home but it’s basically involves watching this monster on a screen doing an hour long workout that’s pretty much non-stop. Then we have team lifting with some individual workouts during the day and then pick-up games at night! Pick-up’s great because our coach made a rule defense calls fouls – I haven’t committed one foul in three weeks! I might have to start being a little more generous though because one of the guys on our team knocked out another because he wasn’t calling anything! [Editor: Ouch]
After not playing a full season for two years, I’m really excited to play this year. Now that I’m healthy, I’m ready to give it 100% and really see what I can do. We have 9/11 players returning this season. Last season, our team was ranked number one in our region, won the conference regular season and was ranked 24th in the country. So, there are big expectations on us this year. We’re starting the season off with a scrimmage against the Ivy league team Monmouth. So, that should be interesting to see how many we spank a D1 team by! Haha. I’m joking! It’ll be a nice challenge to have but it’s a pity we weren’t playing a different ivy league team like UPenn. Then I could play against the infamous Keelan Cairns!
I’ll definitely be putting up a lot more posts this year to keep you updated on how the team is doing and maybe I’ll even get the TCC shirt that was ‘posted’ last September! [Editor: Royal Mail have been contacted regarding this misplaced package. Stay strong, Paul]
Paul was the first player featured on The Courtside Collective; he is currently one of only two players from N.I. playing college basketball in the USA. Paul attends Franklin Pierce, a Division 2 school in New England, and is on a full scholarship. He spent last year as a ‘red-shirt’, missing out on an entire season due to a serious foot injury. This year he is back in action and the sky is the limit for the former St Malachy’s College baller. We are happy to have Paul onboard as a regular contributor.
In the midst of a fascinating, if occasionally bafflingly awful, finals series between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder, a rather significant event which is due to take place two days after the hypothetical Game 7 was scheduled is becoming rather forgotten about: the 2012 NBA draft.
Part of the reason for that is that few people believe that there are many interesting prospects once inevitable first overall pick Anthony Davis is taken off the board by the New Orleans Hornets (and how convenient for a team going nowhere in a city that doesn’t care about them managed to get the first overall pick JUST BEFORE they were sold to a new owner). This is perhaps a little harsh on guys like Thomas Robinson, Andre Drummond, even the fake Andrew Sanders (Tyler Zeller). Guys like Harrison Barnes, however, are a little less exciting for fans given the lack of clarity on exactly how effective these less-than-stellar college players are likely to be in the NBA.
Part of the charm of the draft, along with the hyped picks of the lottery who end up being busts, are the college big guys (inevitably well short of seven feet tall) who end up being perfectly serviceable NBA power forwards. Tyler Hansbrough, DeJuan Blair, Paul Millsap, Carlos Boozer were all relatively unheralded coming into the league (although Hansbrough was still a lottery pick) but have all been able to fill a role. In this years draft, I’m going to put Draymond Green (currently predicted to drop to the bottom of the first round, although concerns over Jared Sullinger’s back might see them swap places if a team is looking for a combative big man) from Michigan State in that role this season. He has improved year on year in college and comes from the Tom Izzo production line of hard workers. If he can adopt the Kevin Love approach and get his weight under control, he could be the steal of the draft.
In advance of next week’s draft, The Courtside Collective will take you for a walk down memory lane to visit the ghosts of drafts past…
We’ll begin in 2000. That year, the first overall pick was Kenyon Martin and the lottery picks were filled out with household names like Stromile Swift, Darius Miles, Marcus Fizer, Mike Miller, DerMarr Johnson, Chris Mihm, Jerome Moiso, and Mateen Cleaves. The second round featured players who went on to have significant European careers like Igor Rakocevic and Pete Mickeal. Arguably the best pick was the 43rd overall: when the Milwaukee Bucks selected Michael Redd.
In 2001, the Washington Wizards picked Kwame Brown first overall, selecting him ahead of Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol, Jason Richardson, Shane Battier, Joe Johnson, Zach Randolph, Gerald Wallace, Gilbert Arenas and Mehmet Okur. One could certainly argue the virtue of any of these players against the steal of that particular draft, Tony Parker.
2002 was not a particularly great draft class. Yao Ming, sadly out of the league with serious foot problems, went first ahead of Jay Williams (who never recovered from a motorcycle accident), Mike Dunleavy, Drew Gooden, Dajaun Wagner, Nene and Chris Wilcox before the Phoenix Suns picked troubled 19-year old High Schooler, Amar’e Stoudemire. Further down the draft order came Carlos Boozer and Argentinian star Luis Scola.
Of course, 2003 was the draft that history might well remember as the greatest ever, bringing Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh into the league. You could even cite draft class alum like Chris Kaman, Kirk Hinrich, Mickael Pietrus, Nick Collison, David West, Boris Diaw, Kendrick Perkins, Leandro Barbosa, Josh Howard, James Jones, Matt Bonner, Kyle Korver, Zaza Pachulia, Luke Walton and Jason Kapono, not to mention 47th overall pick Mo Williams as ample reason to support this as the greatest ever draft. Of course, the presence of Darko Milicic at second overall rather spoils the picture, but anyone who has ever seen Darko play in the flesh cannot help but note that he’s not that bad. Certainly no worse than Michael Olowakandi, anyway. Darko will forever be cursed with Sam Bowie syndrome, the “I can’t believe they picked him instead of him” discussions which permeate all draft conversations after the fact, but particularly so when you end up getting picked ahead of Michael Jordan or any of those guys above.
In 2004, there was some debate as to which big man would be picked first: raw high schooler Dwight Howard or polished UConn centre Emeka Okafor. Ben Gordon went third, before Shaun Livingston (I still cringe even thinking about what happened to his knee), Devin Harris, Josh Childress and Luol Deng. Deng was part of the Phoenix Suns attempt to totally butcher the final years of Steve Nash’s career, particularly when we consider that Childress, a player who makes no tangible contributions to the Suns, was the one of these two who ended up playing alongside Nash. Deng was traded to Chicago. Further down, Andre Igoudala, Kris Humphries (before he became a total joke thanks to his marriage to…even though only a few people will read this, I refuse to give someone who is only famous for being in a sex tape any publicity…you know who), Al Jefferson, JR Smith, Jameer Nelson, Delonte West, Anderson Varejao, even Chris Duhon have all become serviceable professionals.
2005 saw more poor decision making. Although Milwaukee have been rather unlucky with the way Andrew Bogut’s career has panned out, Marvin Williams over Deron Williams AND Chris Paul is unforgivable. What Atlanta could have been with either player… Andrew Bynum went tenth and Danny Granger went 17th but there are other players who have arguably had just as impressive careers as Marvin Williams in Lou Williams (45th), Monta Ellis (40th), Brandon Bass (33rd), or David Lee (30th). Other players who failed to set the league alight included Williams’ UNC colleagues Sean May and Rashad McCants.
2006 was another bad draft year. Andrea Bargniani went first to Toronto ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge. Then came Adam Morrison, Tyrus Thomas, Shelden Williams, Randy Foye, Patrick O’Bryant, Mouhamed Sene, Hilton Armstrong…although these picks were broken up by those of Brandon Roy, Rudy Gay and JJ Redick. Rajon Rondo dropped to 22nd. Steve Novak was also drafted by the Houston Rockets (interestingly a pick that was originally New York’s). Down at pick 47 was Utah’s Paul Millsap.
In 2007 all the hype was about Oden or Durant? Portland took the gamble on the Ohio State big man who apparently had one leg longer than the other over the precocious talent of the Texas…well whatever position you would say Durant is. Other picks in this draft included Joakim Noah at nine, after Yi Jianlian, Corey Brewer and Brandan Wright. Were any of these guys better picks than the super-athletic Rudy Fernandez? Aaron Brooks and Arron Afflalo at 26 and 27? Big Baby Glen Davis at 35? Way down at 48 came Marc Gasol. I’ll stick my neck out and say that every team who picked after Mike Conley Jr. came off the board at four would probably take their pick back to get Gasol.
The following season came another serious debate which is hard to comprehend in hindsight. This time it was Derrick Rose or Michael Beasley? The Chicago Bulls famously won this draft lottery and selected the lightning fast Memphis guard who may or may not have attended any classes during his time in Conference USA. Another who was in the first-pick conversation early on was O.J. Mayo, a player who deliberately went to USC in order to “develop his brand”. After Mayo came Russell Westbrook, then Kevin Love, Danilo Gallinari and Eric Gordon, all guys who have developed highly promising NBA careers already. There then came a bit of a retrospective lull, with Milwaukee making the classic mistake of picking an athletic white guy in Joe Alexander (out of the league already), followed by a series of competent but unspectacular picks like DJ Augustin, Jerryd Bayless, Jason Thompson, Brandon Rush, Anthony Randolph and the Lopez twins, who seem unable to grab significant rebounding figures despite both being seven feet tall. Down at 18 came Roy Hibbert, a guy who surely played his way into a more-than-he-deserves contract either this summer or next when he enters unrestricted free agency. The second round of this particular draft was actually fairly typical, with very few guys ever making an impact on the NBA. Forty-fifth pick Goran Dragic being one notable exception to a rule where Australian big Nathan Jawai flattered to deceive along with jumping jacks Bill Walker and James Gist. Smarter picks were evident, such as the Trail Blazers’ selection of Omer Asik, and Minnesota’s pick of Mario Chalmers at 34 (both men were of course traded).
Another debate occurred in 2009, except it was over who would go AFTER Blake Griffin was taken first overall. Griffin of course missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury, which he has exploded back from in a way many feared would not be possible. Memphis picked UConn giant Hasheem Thabeet who has ended up averaging fewer than three rebounds a game and a disappointing 0.8 blocks per game. Slightly better selections were James Harden at three and Tyreke Evans at four before Minnesota went PGCRAZY (this was an impressive draft for guards, Jeff Teague, Eric Maynor, Jrue Holiday and Darren Collison were also taken) picking Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn with successive picks, then taking Ty Lawson at 18. Bizarrely, they traded Lawson, who had arguably been a more impressive point guard in college than Flynn, as impressive as Flynn was in that crazy Syracuse season (which included that six OT game in the NCAA tournament), to Denver and were unable to secure Rubio’s release until roughly a year ago. Golden State took Stephen Curry after Flynn was off the board and, ankle issues aside, Curry has impressed with his accurate shooting. Jordan Hill, DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Jennings, Terrence Williams and Gerald Henderson were all then picked before UNC star Tyler Hansbrough was picked by Indiana. The second round saw some very effective NBA players drafted. Would teams trade DeJuan Blair, Jonas Jerebko, Jodie Meeks, Chase Budinger or Danny Green for Christian Eyenga, Victor Claver or BJ Mullens? Probably. Would Memphis take anyone over Thabeet? Well, maybe, but that’s the luck of the draft. And that’s why you do your research, NBA execs!
Given the fact that Blake Griffin’s rookie year was delayed a full season, the draft class of 2010 was enhanced by Griffin’s rookie season, which probably robbed John Wall of the rookie of the year award. The Kentucky guard was taken first by the Washington Wizards before Buckeye Evan Turner. This draft class was, however weakened but the strength of those players who left a season earlier. Once you get past the promising Derrick Favors at three and Greg Monroe at seven you could easily make the argument that the Celtic’s Avery Bradley (19th) or possible Eric Bledsoe (18th) were the next best selections. Among those taken in the lottery were the entirely underwhelming Wesley Johnson, Ekpe Udoh, Al-Farouq Aminu, Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry (who had been in the first overall discussions well in advance of the draft), Patrick Patterson and Larry Sanders. DeMarcus Cousins still promises about as much as he threatens to totally lose the plot.
And so we arrive at the 2011 draft. Again, there was debate: Kyrie Irving or Derrick Williams. Not really a debate we would have even three months into the lockout-shortened season. Irving featured in the all-rookie team along with Ricky Rubio (who eventually made it across the Atlantic to great success), Kenneth Faried, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Iman Shumpert and Brandon Knight. Would teams give back their selections of guys like Williams, Enes Kanter (3rd), Tristan Thompson (4th), Bismack Biyombo (7th), Jimmer Fredette (10th and who was usurped by 60th overall selection Isaiah Thomas by the end of the season) or the Morris twins? Leonard in particular fell to 15th and Faried was taken by Denver at 22nd. Both had impressive seasons which extended into the playoffs. Then again, perhaps if they’d been given a worse situation than the San Antonio Spurs or the Nuggets, they would have struggled as well. We are still to see the likes of Jonas Valančiūnas, who is coming off a FIBA European Player of the Year award, so perhaps we might yet look back fondly upon the 2011 draft.
The month of March is the outstanding time in the basketball calendar. Although the sport domestically might be winding down, often anti-climactic-ly (not really a word, at least MS word doesn’t think so), the pinnacle of the American basketball calendar, the NCAA tournament, is taking place.
In April 2010, the NCAA announced a $10.8 billion, 14 year deal which gave television, internet and wireless rights to CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting Inc. Unsurprisingly, CBS earns most of its revenue through advertising sales. Last month, CBS announced that its profits had risen by 31% for the fourth quarter of 2011 despite a dip in advertising sales. It was helped by political advertising, the syndication of the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation series as well as the success of Homeland (the popularity of which I don’t really get), which is shown on Showtime, it’s not-quite-HBO-but-almost cable channel.
It is fair to say that March Madness more than pays for itself. In addition to the notional, but irritating, subscription charge that CBSSports.com now applies to online streaming, over the course of the 2010 tournament, CBS drew in $613.8 million in advertising sales revenue. In 2008, the tournament which ended with Kansas defeating Memphis 75-68, it brought a record $643.2 million to the CBS coffers. So, although $10.8 billion might be only marginally higher than the GDP of Mali (according to CIA estimates for 2011), it is fair to say that CBS will do quite well out of the deal.
Others who are highly sensitive to a positive March performance are the college players themselves. While consistent play throughout the season is what attracts professional teams to them, the desire to perform when it really matters – to be seen as “clutch” – is also crucial.
One college star who has seen his stock severely limited by consistent mediocrity, particularly during this seasons’ tournemant, is North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes. In 2009, Barnes held a press conference to announce that he would move from his Iowa home to Chapel Hill to pursue his basketball dreams at the alma mater of Michael Jordan. This is fairly common among elite High School players; most basketball fans in the United States, particularly post-Lebron, are aware of these kids before they even sign with a college and, if you happen to be a fan of one of the elite college basketball teams, it’s fair to say that you will have more than a passing interest in the outcome of the press conference for a player who may attend your school. The problem was, with Barnes at least, that he subjected the viewing public to something akin to his own version of “The Decision”. “As I reflect on the recruiting process, I’d like to share a few points,” Barnes began, with the logos of Iowa State, UCLA, UNC, Duke, Kansas and Oklahoma in front of him. Many players choose simply to have caps from each school in front of them, before putting on the hat which represents the school they have chosen.
“Today, I’m proud to announce the school I will attend in the fall of 2010 will be the coach I’m going to Skype…”
All this from a seventeen year old.
When the light blue (they call it “tar heel blue” in the US) clad figures appeared on screen, UNC fans rejoiced at yet another high profile recruit joining their basketball programme, but there was something unsettling about someone so young having the audacity to create such a spectacle.
It was no surprise when, prior to the new season beginning, Barnes gave an interview in The Atlantic magazine which informed us that the former honour student, who had a 3.6 GPA in high school, was staying in school because “the longer you stay in college…the better a brand you build.”
Barnes’s second season at UNC saw him average 17.1 points per game along with 5.2 rebounds. Not bad statistics compared with the 15.7 PPG and 5.8 RPG he averaged the previous season, when he won ACC rookie of the year honours. However, when it came to crunch time, Barnes was far from the elite player that UNC needed him to be. His last two games for the Tar Heels saw him shoot 8 for 30. He had been criticised for sporadic effort during games; combining the occasional spectacular play with lazy defensive play. He also struggled as a one-on-one player; something that was sorely evident in UNC’s Elite Eight defeat to Kansas. Put simply, Barnes could not operate at a high level offensively without injured Kendall Marshall alongside him. In particular, his inability to beat his man will pose huge problems for him at the professional level where he will encounter more athletic defenders than those he couldn’t beat at the college level.
Along with Barnes, UNC will lose senior centre Tyler Zeller, rangy forward John Henson and Marshall, most likely all to the NBA. Departing (I’m not going to use the word “graduating” here because that’s not true for them all) UNC classes have not always enjoyed great success at NBA level. The 2005 vintage side saw Marvin Williams, Raymond Felton, Sean May and Rashad McCants to the NBA. Williams and Felton remain the NBA, even though the former is widely seen as a less-than-stellar number two overall pick, picked as he was ahead of Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Andrew Bynum, Danny Granger and David Lee. Similarly, the 2009 class of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green have enjoyed mixed success in their professional careers.
Another individual who has seen his stock collapse over the duration of his college career is Baylor’s Perry Jones III. Jones has been projected as a lottery pick ever since he was in high school. Indeed, just over a year ago, if you had looked at one of the various NBA draft sites, you’d have come to the conclusion that the 6′ 10″ Jones was pretty legit; he was a consensus high lottery choice and in many cases the prediction for first overall pick. Even after what were frankly embarrassing performances in the NCAA tournament, Jones is still the tenth pick on draft express’s website.
The thing about Jones that intrigues potential employees is that he is effectively a seven footer with the skill to play on the wing. In a sense, the poor man’s Kevin Durant.
It has been mooted that Jones simply lacks the work ethic that is necessary to truly succeed. Hard work outworks talent when talent doesn’t work hard, if you will. Or, to put it another way, if you don’t get it by the time you’re in college, you never will.
During January, Baylor faced Kansas. Jones jogged through the tunnel and a middle-aged man yelled at him, calling him a “second rounder”. Baylor lost both of their regular season games with Kansas, although they exacted revenge during the Big 12 championship. In this particular game, Jones led Baylor with 18 points but was eclipsed by Thomas Robinson, the Jayhawk big pouring in 27 points AND hauling down 14 boards. Jones only claimed 5 rebounds. It’s stats like that which have prompted many to call him soft. Over the season, he averaged 13.5 PPG and 7.4 RPG, which isn’t bad, particularly when you consider Baylor has five players averaging double-figure points per game. His field goal percentage is a nice round 50% and he even shot just over 30% from the arc. His 69% free throw success rate, however, will provide fuel for his critics, who have even questioned his decision to attend Baylor.
Jones graduated from Duncanville High School and attracted attention from powerhouse schools such as Kansas and North Carolina. His decision to attend Baylor raised eyebrows, but ignored the fact that his mother, who lives in Dallas, was battling cardiomyopathy, a serious heart condition which may necessitate a transplant. Jones’s character in coming through this, not to mention accusations of receiving improper benefits from Baylor (a recent ESPN article on his notes that he was in fact offered money to attend a rival Big 12 school), will undoubtedly stand him in good stead in the future – he has even improved his grades since arriving in Waco (he tweeted his pleasure at achieving a B in one class and was instructed by his followers to “get back in the gym”).
However, given the amount of money that he is likely to earn in the next couple of years, it will be his performances on the court which will continue to draw the most public attention. The fact that he still sits towards the top of the 2012 draft boards emphasises just how weak this draft class is going to be. Players can enter the draft and withdraw their names, provided it is done before a set date, this year June 18th, and they don’t hire an agent. Jones may yet return for a third year at Baylor, but he will do so in the knowledge that his stock, from a professional point of view, might not rise much higher. If he wants to earn big money, he may need to leave Waco this summer and try his hand in the NBA, particularly if he can earn the guaranteed money of a first round pick.
The list of players who could potentially still be in college is astounding, particularly when you look at those who should still be in college, rather than wasting their time at the end of an NBA bench, just waiting to be waived, is amazing.
Of course, to balance this, one must also consider the players who stayed too long in college, to the extent that it damaged their professional prospects. While one might question how good Jones, or Austin Rivers, or any of the Kentucky team that has just won the national championship, might be at the professional level, there are those who perhaps could have already gone to the NBA and now see their stock dwindling: Mason Plumlee at Duke being a prime example of this.
The list of players who would still have college eligibility left (and lets not forget that Kevin Love, an established NBA star by this stage, was only scheduled to graduate this summer just past) includes:
Alec Burks, Kyrie Irving, Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker and Derrick Williams from last years draft; John Wall, Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins, Xavier Henry and Eric Bledsoe from the year before; Tyreke Evans, DeMar DeRozan and Jrue Holiday from the year before could all still be playing college basketball. Of course, one only needs to review the reaction to Kentucky big man, and projected number one overall pick, Anthony Davis landing awkwardly on his knee to understand why these guys all wanted to play in the NBA. They are not trained, or prepared to do anything else. If basketball doesn’t work out for them, there are not a whole lot of options.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t lament their absence from the college basketball scene.