Integrity and Credibility
Almost all forms of entertainment have their casual fans and their hardcore fans. Often, particularly in the music industry, hardcore enthusiasts will start to dislike a musician when that musician becomes popular. Hardcore fans love bands when they are regional, talented, and under-appreciated. But the moment a band has a pop hit and starts to sell records nationally, they’ve sold out.
Somehow over the weekend the Masters managed to make a decision that irritated both hardcore and casual golf fans. Hardcore golf enthusiasts were disappointed that Tiger Woods was not disqualified for signing the incorrect scorecard on Friday. Woods admitted that he made a mistake with his drop, and in the eyes of golf insiders, that admitted rules violation should have led to the end of his participation. The age-old adage in golf is that “being unaware of the rules is not an excuse”.
But casual fans were not happy with the 2-stroke penalty Tiger received either. Casual fans of sports want to see the athletes that are playing the best be rewarded. They hate to see capricious, random, or bizarre rules prevent the better athlete from succeeding. This is why basketball fans hate flopping so much. You can argue that flopping is part of the game, that acting is part of practicing great defense. But fans don’t watch basketball to see the best actors. They pay to see players with incredible body control do amazing things.
Similarly in golf, no casual fan tunes in to see a bunch of players win or lose based on minor rule minutiae. And yet golf continues to insist that minor unknown rules should have a major impact on its championships. In 2010, it was Dustin Johnson, playing the best golf in the PGA championship, who was disqualified for not knowing about some course-specific rule. And on Friday, it was Tiger Woods who took a 2-stroke penalty for not knowing the proper way to drop the ball. But Tiger wasn’t the only one. When I heard about the violation, I still had the event on my DVR and re-watched the call of the action on the 15th. Before Tiger dropped, David Feherty noted that what Tiger should do is drop the ball “about two yards back from the original spot he hit it from”. In other words, Feherty’s instinct was to do exactly what Tiger did. Meanwhile, Feherty tried to read through several pieces of paper on whether it was a red or yellow drop, and still couldn’t figure it out in real time. Yes, giving Tiger Woods a two-stroke penalty protected the integrity of the game. But to the casual fan, it continues to destroy the credibility of the game. It shows that golf is more about knowing rules, than about rewarding the player making the best shots and putts.
This isn’t to say that college basketball doesn’t have its own credibility problem. Last year the NCAA added a rule that an unintentional elbow is an automatic flagrant foul. This is exactly the same type of rule that destroys the NCAA’s credibility and turns off casual fans. It rewards acting over basketball, and it must be changed.
Of course we’ve now reached the point of the year where the casual basketball fans have moved on to the NBA. The folks who started caring about college basketball the day the NCAA tournament bracket was released are now long gone. By the time we get to the Jordan Brand Classic, the only people who are trying to read the tea leaves for next season are true high school and college basketball enthusiasts. Even the McDonald’s All-American game attracts some casual fans. But if you are watching the Jordan Brand Classic on a Saturday night in April, you’ve earned some street cred.
2013 Jordan Brand Classic
1) Let me start by praising a player who should NOT have NBA scouts salivating, the player with a 4.0 GPA who considered going to Harvard and playing for Tommy Amaker. As Paul Biancardi put it, Nigel Williams-Goss doesn’t have the athleticism of some of the other top recruits. And to the extent he has a more polished game, that is because he has needed it. Williams-Goss had a pair of beautiful floaters in this game, the kind of shots that players like Andrew Harrison haven’t had to work on yet, because Williams-Goss can’t depend on beating his man and getting to the basket.
But what sets Williams-Goss apart is that he is a leader and a consummate winner. And with the Jordan Brand Classic tied with 35 seconds left and the ball in the other team’s hands, Williams-Goss proved it. He stole the ball, drove to the hoop, and his bucket and one clinched the victory for the West team.
Somehow despite making the game-winning play and leading the victorious West team in scoring, Nigel Williams-Goss was not one of the co-MVPs. But that is so perfect for his game. Williams-Goss was not nearly the most exciting player on the floor on Saturday night. But he is the kind of player that as Jimmy Dykes put it, “when he subs out of the game, your team gets substantially worse.” And for fans of the college game, the Washington Huskies might have hit the recruiting jackpot. Like Ohio St.’s Aaron Craft, Williams-Goss is the kind of player that will do whatever it takes to win, and who will probably be around for more than one year too.
I need to stop raving about him, but I also loved Jimmy Dykes other story about Williams-Goss. Williams-Goss was not a great three point shooter in high school. But when he heard he was going to be participating in a high school three point shooting contest, he spent a month shooting basketballs off a rack. He won the three point contest. We haven’t even reached November yet, and this kid is my favorite freshman in the country.
2) One of my big questions for Arizona next season is how it is going to work out to have so many forwards on the team. But Biancardi and Dykes hit the nail on the head with their description of Arizona recruit Rondae Jefferson. He may be 6’7”, but he’s a versatile defender, capable of defending any position from 1-5. And in this game, he spent some time defending Florida’s super-PG Kasey Hill just to prove his quickness. Next year that versatility may make him the most valuable player on an Arizona roster full of talented front-court players.
3) With 11:10 to go in the first half, Memphis recruit Kuran Iverson had the ball on a 3-on-1 break. Despite having two open teammates to pass the ball to, he kept it himself and converted the lay-up. It seemed like bad ball-hawking etiquette, even in an all-star game. But as the announcers noted, Kuran is Allen Iverson’s cousin. Sometimes, you just can’t make this stuff up.
4) Paul Biancardi did a nice job contrasting Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. In his eyes, Parker is the polished player who can impact the college game immediately, while Wiggins is rated so high because of his potential. I think this is an important fact to remember next year. Wiggins is bound to be a bit of a disappointment no matter where he goes. We’ve seen it before with players like Harrison Barnes who are small forwards but who don’t have a developed outside shot yet. While the NBA scouts will be drooling at the height he gets on his second offensive rebound attempt, college fans will be left scratching their head why such a prized recruit isn’t a more efficient scorer.
5) It is really hard to learn much from the action in these all-star games because of the lack of defense. Jabari Parker looked much better than he did in the McDonald’s All-American game and Julius Randle was a force. So if you are a fan of Duke or Kentucky, maybe you want to watch the replay on ESPN3.com. But, I’m not sure if either of them made a legitimate post move all game. Yes, we saw lots of scrappy scoring around tall defenders. But Florida’s Chris Walker was the only guy who I saw catch the ball in the paint and make a legitimate back-to-the-basket move.
6) Three players missing in the McDonald’s All-American game did stand out some though. First, Syracuse recruit Tyler Ennis played like he had a chip on his shoulder at the earlier snub. He knocked down a three, had some great drives to the basket, had a nice steal on standard ball-pressure, and he even dove on the floor for a loose ball. Syracuse vitally needs him to play well next year given the lack of depth on the perimeter, and nothing in this game suggested he won’t be an instant impact recruit.
Meanwhile, Kansas recruit Joel Embiid was everything Paul Biancardi promised. According to Biancardi, Embiid is the senior center with the most potential, but his game isn’t polished enough yet. And Embiid showed his potential with an athletic early block of Julius Randle. But shooting 1-6 on the day, Embiid needs a couple years of seasoning before he can dominate at the college level. He’ll be a nice defensive player off the bench for Kansas next year, but he isn’t ready to play more than 15 minutes per night his freshman year.
Finally, I am now very intrigued to see forward Kennedy Meeks next year for North Carolina. According to Biancardi he has the best hands of anyone in his class, but the question will be his conditioning. He could be North Carolina’s version of Davante Gardner or Josh Smith. If he can get in shape and run the floor with North Carolina, his finishing ability will be spectacular. And he is apparently particularly good at outlet passes. But it should be fun to see whether he can get in shape enough to dominate for the Tar Heels.