The State Of The Game

There have been many responses to Epi’s ‘farewell’ comment last week. All of them have valid points and interesting takes. Here’s why I think college basketball is still one of the more exciting sports out there and sooooo much better than the NBA.

First, it’s obvious that times have changed in college hoops. With the internet and the world’s love of gambling, fans can follow recruiting like never before and the NCAA tournament means more than it ever has. As far as recruting goes, with everyone knowing almost everything about a recruit, it has a two-fold effect. First, it makes these high school kids seem like superstars before they have played a game in college. Those high school stars want to emulate their NBA heroes so they end up with entourages and a holier-than-thou attitude. Now, of course, not all of them are like that, but enough of them are. Second, the love of gambling and the NCAA tournament has the game’s popularity rising to amazingly high levels. Perhaps second only to the NFL as far as the gambling goes. I have been to Vegas during the tournament in 8 of the last 9 years. I’m told the only weekend where it’s more packed is the Super Bowl. This popularity adds to the ‘entitled’ attitudes of the players and changes how the ‘game is played’ and by ‘game’, I mean recruiting.

You have to start kissing the asses of these kids in junior high or you won’t be giving them the ‘respect’ they seem to think they deserve. There is no teaching in coaching as much, it’s the coach needing to change his way (the way said coach may have been coaching for decades) to fit the style his star recruit wants to play. This is a troublesome issue that has to be dealt with these days and some coaches, like Gary Williams, have had trouble swallowing his pride to do it. And while it may have led to more wins, I don’t particularly blame him for not wanting to ‘play the game’. It’s like someone coming into your office and telling you to change everything that has gotten you to where you are in a company. Whether you decide to change or not, it’s still almost an insult. It’s not natural, but it has become necessary in order to deal with the college hoops of today.

Now there have been plenty of issues in college hoops for many years. The movie Blue Chips and it’s use of the phrase ‘friends of the program’ came out nearly 15 years ago. It was based on things that have happened in the sport long before. In the 80’s, you had players doing drugs on a regular basis, whether it was playing in the Final 4 on coke (Villanova), or dropping dead just after being drafted. (Lenny Bias) And don’t forget, Allen Iverson was no perfect recruit. The guy had to be granted clemency by the Governor of Virginia just to be able to play college basketball. That was 13 years ago. I don’t think Georgetown regrets that decision.

Sure, the dynamics have changed as far as which issues and problems coaches have to deal with, but like in all sports, there will always be something. College basketball has gotten more exciting in the past decade with the parity around the country. How great was it to see George Mason a few years ago. How about Gonzaga before they were legit. Sure, a lot of the parity has to do with impatient high school athletes who think their pro chances would be over if they actually had to sit and learn for a year as freshmen. Players will go anywhere to play these days but I think that has made college basketball better, not worse.

I will always have an issue with the young athlete’s attitudes of today. The sense of entitlement and the fact they can’t be ‘disrespected’ by a coach or authority figure. Coaches who yell and scream won’t be taken seriously anymore and you see fewer and fewer of those coaches around, or they changed their ways a bit, or those coaches recruit lesser known kids who will actually listen and learn from a coach, no matter what the style. It comes from the NBA where I can think of only a handful of coaches who are respected. Watch a Pistons game sometime. The players aren’t even looking at Flip Saunders when he is talking. Guys like Rasheed Wallace even walk away from the huddle. Talk about no respect.

I know I’ve rambled a bit, but my point is that the game is as popular as it’s ever been. Maybe not for all the right reasons, but it’s still a great game. Just watching the NBA playoffs makes my yearn for the college season to begin again. The NBA is a joke. In college, you see the emotion. Even if we make fun of Adam Morrison for crying, at least he cared. You think you’ll see Morrison crying if the Bobcats don’t make the playoffs? Hell no.