Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Guys I Like

My good buddy Joel sent me a link this morning to a rare piece on Billy Edelin, the former Syracuse point guard whose promising career was derailed by some mysterious off-the-court stuff that I won't get into, mainly because it happened long enough ago that I can't remember all of it, but also because if I recall correctly, it was all pretty secretive and unresolved.

It's a good read, but I also thought it would be a good opportunity to introduce a feature that should give readers a little background about my philosophy of basketball, as well as provide for some fun moving forward.

I'll watch basketball no matter who is playing, but, naturally, there are certain players who I enjoy watching more than others. These guys bring a little something extra to the hardwood: a showman's flair to the art of passing, for example, or a particularly strong work ethic on the glass. I can't put into words why I enjoy watching them more than others. They are not necessarily stars. Their games do not necessarily share a particular attribute, save one: They are Guys I Like. Let's call them GILs.

Mostly due to his intermittent appearances, Billy Edelin does not qualify as a GIL. But the following guys do:

(Listed more or less chronologically)

Harold Deane -- PG, Virginia, 1993-97
Although I have home-team and alumni allegiances, respectively, to the University of Vermont and American University -- and although I seem to root for Syracuse every year -- the truth is that I don't have a school I cheer for the way most people do. Rather, and this was especially true when I was younger, with each college basketball season, I inevitably find a team (or a few of them) whose particular style of play and chemistry attracts me to them. Some years, those teams are successful, like the Dwyane Wade-led Marquette squad that made the 2003 Final Four. Some years, they aren't, like the late-90s/early-00s South Florida teams that never, to my recollection, even made the NCAA Tournament. My favorite college team ever was the 1994-95 Virginia Cavaliers, and the hard-nosed Deane was their leader. Playing alongside Junior Burrough and Curtis Staples (the all-time NCAA three-point king until J.J. Redick came along), Deane led UVa to the regional finals in 1995, where they lost to eventual national runners-up Arkansas.

Stephon Marbury -- PG, Georgia Tech, 1995-96
The Starchild's lone season of college ball coincided with the year that my parents had DirecTV installed at our house in Vermont, which meant that my consumption of basketball went from whatever games CBS (Big East and Big Ten) and ABC (ACC) had on the weekends to Big Monday, Super Tuesday, and ACC Wednesday. I was excited for Marbury's arrival, having first been introduced to him by Darcy Frey in a great book called The Last Shot. (Someone remind me one of these days to do a post about my favorite basketball books.) Marbury's Coney Island swagger was an interesting contrast to the blue-collar style of teammate Matt Harpring, and Yellowjackets coach Bobby Cremins paired him in the backcourt with Drew Barry, an equally brilliant passer and long-distance threat. Sadly, most people's opinions of Marbury have been stained by his petulance as a professional, and his apparent mental breakdown a few seasons ago. I, however, choose to remember Marbury for passes like this one, an illustration of the self-expression this great game allows. Fact: I own a Stephon Marbury #8 Celtics shirt.

God Shammgod -- PG, Providence, 1995-97
I spent most of my high school basketball career waiting for an opportunity to throw the pass God Shammgod threw at the beginning of this video. That highlight comes from the 1995 McDonald's All-America game, when he was known as Shammgod Wells. (Great game, by the way, capped by an all-time announcing performance from Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery.) Shammgod was a wizard with the basketball -- Raftery commented during that game that his was "the greatest handle since the Messiah"(puns surely intended) -- and despite a professional career that was far from noteworthy, his legacy lives on in "The Shammgod," a streetball crossover move that he unleashed on Arizona's Michael Dickerson in the 1997 Southeast regional final while Billy Packer and Jim Nantz were blathering on about North Carolina and Kentucky, as is their wont.

Kenny Thomas -- PF, New Mexico, 1995-99
Earlier, in my paragraph about Stephon Marbury, I mentioned Big Monday. For those who don't remember (or never knew), Big Monday (the real Big Monday, not the watered-down doubleheaders of today) was a weekly college basketball tripleheader on ESPN that marked the start of conference play. Back in the mid-1990s, when we first got ESPN, Big Monday was a Big East game at 7:30, a Big12 game at 9:30, a half hour or so of SportsCenter, and then a WAC game at midnight. (All times Eastern.) My parents were often asleep on the couch at 9 o'clock -- and, in any case, were remarkably unconcerned about how late I stayed up -- and so even though it was a school night, I'd often watch those late-night contests. With the undersized Thomas at power forward, New Mexico was often featured. Perhaps because it was so late at night, I remember precious little as to why 16-year-old me liked Kenny Thomas so much, but I did.

Michael Doleac -- C, Utah, 1994-98
See above. These were the days of the Rick Majerus Runnin' Utes, led by NBA semi-bust Keith Van Horn, and because of him, they were on TV an awful lot, the same way the more recent versions of Big Monday almost always featured Gonzaga in the WCC game in the midnight slot. The reason for my obsession with Doleac has been lost to time, but I distinctly remember, several years later at a party in Washington, D.C., telling the first person I had ever met from Utah how much I loved him. (Doleac, not the first person I had ever met from Utah.)

Otis Hill -- C, Syracuse, 1993-97
Doleac and Otis Hill are out of order, chronologically, on this list because they in some way relate to Thomas. In truth, however, Hill paved the way for my appreciation of Thomas, as both are undersized posts (though Thomas had a lot more offensive game). I remember Hill as ferocious rebounder; it startles me to discover that he only averaged 5.4 boards per game in a career in which he played 30 minutes a night. Hmm.

Ryan Gomes -- PF, Providence, 2001-05
Back in 2001-02, I was the Big East beat writer for a now-defunct sports site called Fanstop. (Many thanks to my editor Brandon Huffman for the opportunity and for being a mentor of sorts.) My work for the site was pretty basic -- I'd watch as much as I could, scour the Web for the rest, and write league-wide recaps once or twice per week. The Friars were pretty bad back then and thus weren't getting much airtime, but as I looked through the box scores, I kept noticing the numbers being put up by Gomes, a freshman who hadn't been heavily recruited and wasn't getting that much attention, despite averaging 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in his first collegiate season. By the time he was a senior, he had earned plenty of attention, though his tweener size relegated him to the second half of the second round of the 2005 NBA Draft, where, to my delight, he was drafted by the Celtics. (I like to think he played a part in Boston's 2008 title by being a piece of the trade that brought Kevin Garnett to the Celtics.) Whether his transition to small forward in the pros has been successful is up for you to decide, but a personal life highlight of mine is being in the Verizon Center on March 7, 2006, when Gomes scored 21 first-half points in a 116-115 overtime win over the Wizards. (Gomes finished with 27, then a career-high, and the victory came thanks to this Paul Pierce game-winner, a shot I never tire of watching.)

Josh Pace -- SF, Syracuse, 2001-05
Josh Pace really is the epitome of a GIL. In fact, one does not realize how difficult it is to put one's affection for Josh Pace into words until one actually tries to do so. Pace wasn't flashy; he played hard, but didn't wow you with his hustle; and he wasn't a great shooter. He never averaged more than 10.8 points in his four college seasons. The majority of his career was spent going unnoticed, grabbing a big rebound here, a big steal there, and throwing in the occasional nice assist. A handful of times per game, he'd cruise into the lane and throw up a little left-handed eight-foot flip shot. And I loved him for it.

Mike Gansey -- SG, West Virginia, 2004-2006
In my opinion, Mike Gansey did not get the credit he deserved in helping lead the Mountaineers to the Final Four in 2005, probably due to the novelty of having a heavily-tattooed, 6'11" guy with a humorous last name who could shoot three-pointers as a teammate. In many ways, Gansey was the prototypical John Beilein player -- smart, gutsy, a good long-range shooter. On the other hand, there was just something about the way he played -- the way he moved on the court, really -- that suggested to me that he was more of a baller than he appeared to be. I took to calling him "Street," for reasons I've yet been unable to articulate. He went undrafted and never really got a shot in the pros, but he's a GIL and I'll always believe he could have had a decent career.

Jonny Flynn -- PG, Syracuse, 2007-09
Readers of my Celtics blog already know of my love for the man I refer to as TMJF: The Marvelous Jonny Flynn. You can read all about the genesis of my admiration for him at that link, and you can post comments about his struggles in the NBA thus far at gofuckyourself.com. He was freed from a toxic situation in Minnesota via a draft day trade to the Houston Rockets, and while there are a few names ahead of him on the Rockets' depth chart, I remain confident: Jonny Flynn shall rise again.

1 comment:

  1. Good read, sir. Glad the NBA's sabbatical has not rained on your journalistic parade. Look forward to the coming posts, college hoops and otherwise.