Jeff Pearlman

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Am I missing something here?

john_wall

Back when I was a student at the University of Delaware in the early 1990s, making the NCAA Tournament was a huge deal. The Blue Hen players were guys you went to classes with; guys you ate with; guys you hung with. They were regular students, just like you, only with a certain level of fame that—come graduation—would almost certainly fade away. You took pride in them because, in a sense, they were … you.

Hence, I don’t really understand how a University of Kentucky student can get excited about March Madness. Your best players are simply hired help, here to win basketball games and mindlessly limp through the easiest possible classes for a year or two. They aren’t actually a part of the university; certainly never plan on graduating or—come season’s end—continuing with studies. Besides wearing jerseys that say KENTUCKY across the front, they have almost nothing to actually do with the University of Kentucky. To take pride in them is to take pride in any ol’ object that has a UK stamped atop it. (and, in many ways, college football and men’s basketball players are viewed/treated as objects. Precious objects, certainly, but objects nonetheless).

Same goes for the coach. John Calipari doesn’t love Kentucky; he doesn’t bleed Kentucky blue or live for the university. It’s a job—a nice, cushy job that, with ample success, will lead to another nice, cushy job. Nothing less, nothing more.

So win! Win big! Go get ‘em!

Because, come day’s end, it says nothing about your school. And everything.

PS: Feel free to replace the word “Kentucky” with Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, etc … etc. It’s all the same.

  • Kyle

    I disagree with duke. Coach K has been around a while and he recruits players that will stay.

  • Adam

    yeah kyle beat me to it. Guys like Coach K, ROy Williams, Calhoun, Tom Izzo, Sidney Lowe, Gary Williams, Lute Olsen, Bo Ryan i thin care about their school. JefF i will agree on the scumbag guys like Cal and Bob Huggins who about them over everyone else. The NCAA is great and why do you have to be Caption Buzzkill? Also why make such a broad generalization of everyone, when i do believe guys who care about the kids and the program. I mention big name guys above, but there guys at small schools who never leave because they love the place they are at. I thin you have points but i do disagree with some

  • blmeanie

    the kids that these schools use for one or two and done seasons are highly compensated.

  • jmw

    It isn’t just the players running through the system that is a problem, Coaches get lost too.
    I’m a Duck. Next season Oregon moves into it’s new $230,000,000+/- Matthew Knight Arena. I understand the need to put butts in the stands and Ernie didn’t get it done this year…So they fire him.
    This bothers me.
    Ernie had some good years and some bad years, but where he did shine is where it matters, academics.
    In last years report on the 2008 season the Oregon Basketball team scored a 975 (out of 1000) APR (Academic Progress Rate) it puts them in the top 90-100% in their sport. http://web1.ncaa.org/app_data/apr2007/529_2007_apr.pdf
    During the ’06-’07 season they scored a perfect 1000.
    Ernie is Oregon’s winningest coach. Ernie has put the Ducks into the NCAA tourney 5 times, the elite 8 twice.
    The problem is recruiting the talent necessary in a talent poor geographical area.
    Every coach will have that problem.
    Ernie has been able to bring in some of that talent, just not year after year. On a basketball team one player makes all the difference in the world.
    I am going to miss Ernie, and I think it is a mistake to remove him for a perceived improvement.

  • http://www.19thoughts.blogspot.com Byron

    So, the point of this article is that fans (and students) of colleges with good programs aren’t allowed to feel good when their teams make it to NCAAs?

    Ok. Draw the line, Jeff. Let us know which fan base is allowed to give a shit and which fan base can sit on their hands.

    Then make sure you write an article ripping the fan base that’s sitting on its hands for a lack of school spirit, etc. And for bonus points compare it to your experiences from 20 years ago.

  • Ted

    You nailed it when you mentioned the jerseys with the name of the school on them. People root for logos and colors and pieces of cloth. Those wearing them could be robots or people or aliens or whatever. The only thing that matters is that their uniforms beat the other uniforms.

  • Steve

    You’re right. And while we’re at it, even the seniors have their eye on the NBA, so we shouldn’t be allowed to root for them either. And don’t get me started on pro athletes—they’re just money-grubbing stooges who will jump to another team at the slightest hint of a pay raise. The government should just outlaw any competitions that don’t feature the passion of the early-1990s Delaware Blue Hen teams.

    It must suck to be this unhappy all the time.

    • http://www.jeffpearlman.com Jeff Pearlman

      Steve, it must suck even more to be so accepting of everything that comes down the pike.

  • mark

    So what. It’s a business. The kids do have an opportunity to take real classes if they want. Most don’t want to. They just want to play big time sports. Trying to make players like John Wall into “student athletes” is like trying to make chicken salad out of chicken shit. It just won’t work

  • Steve H

    It’s a shame what college sports has come to. A real shame.

  • Steve

    I understand and appreciate the original point, Jeff. I don’t hate the NBA age limit, nor do I love it. It would be great for college basketball if players like Durant, Rose, and Oden stayed for all four years. But I would have left school early too if I had the chance to make millions.

    Let me give you my perspective as a Kansas fan. Before this season, it was pretty much understood that Xavier Henry wasn’t going to be a four-year player. I’ve tried not to get to attached, but throughout the year, he’s become a Jayhawk, regardless of his future intentions. We’ve seen him dominate at times, and we’ve seen him make stupid mistakes. He has grown up in front of us, and has been part of a truly great team (we’ll see how great they truly are in the coming weeks).

    But the KU basketball program isn’t just about Xavier Henry. It’s about Sherron Collins, the winningest player in KU history. It’s about Cole Aldrich, a low-post beast who could have turned pro last year but decided to stay for a run at a championship (and it should be noted that his parents are really struggling financially). It’s about Tyrel Reed, a plucky shooting guard from the Middle of Nowhere, Kansas.

    And it’s about 2,000 wins, Phog Allen, James Naismith, Wilt Chamberlain, Danny and the Miracles, and Allen Fieldhouse. And let’s not forget Mario’s Miracle.

    So while the current system might not be perfect, keep in mind that most fans loved their team before the rules were put in place. And there’s plenty to love about college basketball, despite its shortcomings.

    P.S. Coach Cal belongs in a class by himself. He’s undoubtedly the sleaziest guy in college basketball.

  • Pat

    I agree that Cal is in a class by himself.
    You should point out that Cole Aldrich could have been a lottery pick last year, but loved college so much that he stuck around although is dad lost his job. His goal was to be an Academic All American before he left school and he did it this year. Also, Sherron Collins was expected to stay two years, but has fallen in love with college. He’s passed up the NBA twice now. He’ll be the first person from his family to graduate college.

    I understand your point Jeff, but don’t make statements when you might not understand the entire situation. KU has never had a one and done.

  • Classicist

    How many college athletes did you interview for this piece?

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life