Monday, January 29, 2007

"Can't Miss" Kids Very Often Do

I was watching the Michigan State Spartans tussle with the Ohio State University Saturday night in basketball, and much of the talk seemed to return to the Buckeyes' freshman center, Greg Oden.

It didn’t hurt that Oden had scored the Buckeyes’ first seven points, and it didn’t hurt when OSU began to pull away and thump the Spartans in the first half. Oden is a young beast that has begun to dominate his conference, the suspect Big Ten, and his team is ranked in the top five in the nation, despite playing in an inferior grouping of basketball schools.

Midway through the first half, ESPN went to a montage of collegiate big men from back in the day. Suddenly the screen was filled with slo-motion footage of college behemoths blocking shots, dunking, and otherwise terrorizing opponents.

Patrick Ewing. Hakeem Olajuwon. Shaquille O’Neal. These three were the behemoths shown in the ESPN montage. And, after the clips, a graphic, comparing the statistics of freshman Oden with those of the three Hall of Famers who appeared in slo-motion beauty, during their freshman seasons.

“And you can add Ralph Sampson in there, too,” analyst Dickie Vitale tossed in. “He had a sensational freshman season, as well.”

So there you have it. Oden is, after 20 games or so, already in the same class as Ewing, Olajuwon, and O’Neal. And you can add Sampson in there, too.

Some have already taken to call this year’s NBA Draft the “Greg Oden lottery.” The implication is clear: Greg Oden is too good, too overpowering, to wittle away his basketball playing time at a tiny college like Ohio State. He needs to be in the NBA – and soon!

Doubtless, Oden will be labeled with the cursed “can’t miss” tag. A shoo-in for NBA greatness. Why not, if he’s already as good as a trio of Hall of Famers? And Sampson, too. Bet the farm, Marge, because Greg Oden is coming into the NBA to dominate.

Can’t miss. Or can he?

I remember hearing about a kid with a funny name – Gretzky, I think it was – who, at age 14, was being touted as an NHLer, and not just any NHLer. A Great One. The hype about the youngster from Brantford, Ontario preceded him by a country mile. I sniffed. I mean, he was 14, for goodness sakes.

He lived up to the hype a little bit, though.

But I also remember hearing about a kid with a very normal name – Bobby Carpenter – in 1980, and he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He was a hockey player from the east coast of the United States, and the words above his photo on the SI cover went something like this: And NHL scouts say that he’s the greatest U.S.-born hockey prospect that they’ve seen. Ever.

Bobby Carpenter made it to the NHL, alright, and was a serviceable player. But he wasn’t anywhere near great as a pro. He was no Wayne Gretzky, in other words, who by then was celebrating leaving his teen years by being the greatest hockey player in the world.

We love to anoint in this country. And we’re eager to lift the youngens onto pedestals, teetering them alongside the proven greats. Then we frown and deride them when they topple over, like Humpty Dumpty. Been doing it for years.

We’ve done it here, too, in Detroit.

We wanted to believe – Lord, did we want to believe – that a stud QB out of the University of Houston named Andre Ware, who’d broken a bajillion passing records in college, was going to turn us on with feats of chucking. And he did – of upchucking.

Ware was “can’t miss,” once. It was 1990, and the Lions were in Year Two of their Run ‘n Shoot offense – in which the quarterback has one running back and a boatload of receivers running around the field, trying to confuse the defense. And since the running back was named Barry Sanders, head coach Wayne Fontes figured he was off to a good start. He had the Run part down, in other words. It was the “’n Shoot” part that fouled things up.

Andre Ware, a “perfect” fit in the Lions’ system, since he ran a variation of it in college, held out of training camp until very late. And when he finally bothered to show up, he quickly proved that he couldn’t ‘n Shoot very good as a pro. Because you can’t ‘n Shoot if you can’t ‘n Throw it anywhere near a receiver.

Pistons GM Joe Dumars convinced us, in 2003, that we should all thank our lucky stars that the NBA’s lottery ping pong balls tumbled the Pistons’ way, enabling him to select – cue drumroll, please – Darko Milicic with the #2 overall pick.

Darko was “can’t miss” because Joe D told us so, and whatever Dumars says, the town usually believes. Myself included, truth be told.

Just wait until you see this kid Darko, Dumars told us through the newspapers and radio. He’s raw and unproven now, but he’s the real deal.

He’s “can’t miss.”

Sitting unchosen by the Pistons, after the can’t miss kid Darko, was Dwyane Wade – a bona fide “can’t miss” kid. But the Pistons did miss him, alright – they missed him by one selection. The Miami Heat, next up in the 2003 draft, snatched Wade up like jacks.

Today, Darko Milicic still struggles to find his game – as a member of the Orlando Magic. He has said publicly that his 2+ seasons in Detroit were mostly awful. But even though he plays a lot more in Orlando, he’s still nowhere near worth the #2 overall selection, unless the choosing was taking place on a playground during recess.

Oh, there’ve been more, of course. The can’t misses who somehow managed to, anyway. Of course, they haven’t all been bad. If you select enough can’t misses, you’re bound to hit.

I don’t know if Greg Oden will say so long to Ohio State after just one season, or not. But I do know this: whenever he decides to turn pro, he’s going to be an elite draft pick.

A kid as good as Ewing, Olajuwon, and O’Neal after just 20 collegiate games can only be one thing. Unless it turns out that he isn’t.


Kurt said...

You can't single out Dumars for touting Darko. Every analyst touted Darko and thought he'd be No. 1 pick in any draft that didn't include LeBron. He had the "experts" going Gaga with his size, skill and youth.

I'm still not completely sold on Oden, myself, but he's coming off an injury that likely slowed his transistion to college. Still he doesn't quite seem like a natural out there, either. I still think he goes No. 1, just on general principle of the GM not wanting to be the team that passed him up.

Political.Asylum said...

The Sarcastic Idiocy Forum challenges you to a winner-take-all game of lawn darts.

Anonymous said...

Greg Oden will be fine. He coming off a injury and still having a solid year.

Anonymous said...

Cool info about the NBA, but I was also thinking of shedding some more light on the WNBA, which doesn’t get much publicity, although it should. Here are some interesting facts about the WNBA:

On February 15, 2005, NBA Commissioner David Stern announced that Donna Orender, who had been serving as the Senior Vice President of the PGA Tour and who had played for several teams in the now-defunct Women's Pro Basketball League, would be Ackerman's successor as of April 2005.

The WNBA awarded its first expansion team in several years to Chicago (later named the Sky) in February 2005. In the off-season, a set of rule changes was approved that made the WNBA more like the NBA Wizards game stats.

The 2006 season was the WNBA's tenth; the league became the first team-oriented women's professional sports league to exist for ten consecutive seasons. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary, the WNBA released its All-Decade Team, comprising the ten WNBA players deemed to have contributed, through on-court play and off-court activities, the most to women's basketball during the period of the league's existence.

In December of 2006, the Charlotte Bobcats organization announced it would no longer operate the Charlotte Sting. Soon after, the WNBA announced that the Charlotte Sting would not operate for the upcoming season. A dispersal draft was held January 8, 2007, with all players except for unrestricted free agents Allison Feaster and Tammy Sutton-Brown available for selection. Teams selected in inverse order of their 2006 records, with Chicago receiving the first pick and selecting Monique Currie.

For mens basketball resources please see the pages on the following teams:

NBA New York Knicks
Philadelphia 76ers
Chicago Bulls basketball
Detroit Pistons
Orlando Magic

Michael S.