Former NBA coach/current ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy happened to be watching Kentucky’s game at Ole Miss late last month. He saw Derek Willis intentionally miss a free throw in the final minutes in order to help Isaiah Briscoe get the rebound he needed for a triple-double.
“I was, like, is this really what the game has come down to now?” Van Gundy said in a telephone conversation last week. “Really? We’re going to miss on purpose so an individual gets one more rebound so that we validated that he played a really good game? I mean, I don’t get it. I just don’t.”
Van Gundy was not being critical of the harmless subterfuge perpetrated by Willis and Briscoe as much as voicing an uneasiness with the growing importance placed on statistics. In essence, he was saying too much attention is paid to basketball numbers, triple-doubles included.
“The most over-talked-about thing in sport … ,” he said of triple-doubles. “You know, people say, oh, that’s old school. No. To me, it’s just stats-foolish, what we’ve become at times.”
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On NBA telecasts, Van Gundy has questioned the attention paid to triple-doubles. Would, say, Russell Westbrook or James Harden have subpar performances if they had nine assists rather than 10?
“Numbers tell a story,” Van Gundy said, “but I think a lot of the fascination with the numbers now keep you from actually looking with your eyes and appreciating the game for the beauty the game can bring out.”
The setting of an effective screen. The pass that leads to the pass labeled an assist. Rotating on defense. Beating an opponent to a spot in the low post. Forcing an opponent to his off hand.
“Winning plays,” Van Gundy said. “It’s a highly nuanced game. Yet, we’re trying to reduce it to sheer numbers.”
In decrying the attention paid to triple-doubles, Van Gundy also hit close to home.
“Frankly, the media is as much a problem with that,” he said. “Because we validate that the numbers mean something when sometimes they mean nothing.”
The NCAA did not officially recognize triple-doubles as a statistic until the 2013-14 season. Popular demand led the NCAA to begin recognizing triple-doubles.
Van Gundy was not discounting how well Briscoe played at Ole Miss (19 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists) even if one of the rebounds was a gift. No doubt he would applaud De’Aaron Fox’s play against Arizona State a month earlier (14 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) even if one of the assists was bogus.
Kentucky’s pace of play — more possessions, more chances for points, rebounds and assists — contribute to this season’s relative bonanza of triple-doubles.
Not all triple-doubles are created equal. More impressive, Van Gundy said, are “stats put up in wins and particularly against elite-level competition or where the competition is similar, which you don’t get much at Kentucky, right?”
“It’s the cool thing right now in basketball to get a triple-double,” said J.D. Hamilton, an assistant director who oversees statistics for the NCAA. “It’s a cool thing to see happen and kids are striving to get a triple-double.”
Of course, Kentucky had only one triple-double prior to this season: Chris Mills (19 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) against Austin Peay on Dec. 27, 1988.
Officially or unofficially, other dynasty programs have also had few triple-doubles, which probably speaks to depth of talent and limited playing time for any individual player. Kansas has had five, although spokesman Chris Theisen said there was no telling how many triple-doubles Wilt Chamberlain had in the 1950s. UCLA has had four, with spokesman Alex Timiraos voicing a similar qualifier about Lew Alcindor (now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton. North Carolina and Duke have each had three triple-doubles.
But even if these all-time greats never had a triple-double, at least officially, were they any less dominant players?
“From a fan perspective, they see the game and appreciate the players’ performance after they check out his numbers,” Van Gundy said. “It’s almost like you wait till after the fact to be impressed versus just watching the game and saying, ‘Hey, this guy is some player.’”
With fantasy leagues, analytics and Ken Pomeroy’s coefficients, maybe we can’t give up our craving for numbers.
As Van Gundy said, “We’re ‘stat-aholics’ now.”
Former Brigham Young point guard Kyle Collinsworth holds the record for triple-doubles in a season and a career. He had six in the 2014-15 season and six more in the 2015-16 season. His 12 are a career record.
Only one other player has had more than one official triple-double: Denzel Valentine of Michigan State. He had two last season. (It should be noted that, unofficially, Michigan State’s Magic Johnson had eight career triple-doubles: one as a freshman and seven as a sophomore).
For Collinsworth, the triple-doubles were anything but coincidental.
“I set a goal to be known as Mr. Triple-Double before it ever happened,” he said last week. “I actually wrote down in my journal. That’s what people call me. It’s pretty cool.”
When any player, De’Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe included, post a triple-double, someone will notify Collinsworth with a text, tweet or Facebook message.
Collinsworth, who grew up in Provo, Utah, said he had many triple-doubles as a high school player. He came close to several as a sophomore at BYU, which was his hometown college. That gave him confidence that he could post triple-doubles.
When asked if he was aware during games what he needed for a triple-double, Collinsworth said, “The first two or three, no. Then sometimes one of the assistant coaches would come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you need one more assist.’ Then eventually, the crowd at home, and even on the road, they’d be like freaking out. ‘One more! One more!’”
Collinsworth, who suggested rebounding was the key component to his triple-doubles, cited two factors for his versatility. One was innate ability. The other was having two older brothers, which meant playing against bigger, stronger players.
“Learning to beat guys to the ball,” he said. “Learning to be smarter than your opponent because I was always smaller and not as fast as guys three years older.”
Collinsworth took pride in his triple-doubles. He pointed out that BYU won 11 of the 12 games in which he had a triple-double.
“I think it’s a stat that translates into winning a lot,” he said. “It’s an unselfish stat.”
For all the triple-doubles, Collinsworth was not an NBA Draft pick. He cited his advanced age. He’s 25. A two-year Mormon mission to Russia extended his college career.
Collinsworth plays for the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League. As of late last week, he had not recorded a triple-double for the Legends. He was averaging 7.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists.
I see your triple-double and raise you a quadruple-double.
According to NCAA records, there’s only been one quadruple-double in Division I history. Lester Hudson of Tennessee-Martin had 25 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 steals in 31 minutes against Central Baptist on Nov. 13, 2007.
Eight days earlier, Hudson made his college debut against John Calipari-coached Memphis. He scored 35 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a game that also served as the college debut of Derrick Rose.
Hudson, a 6-3 guard, only played one season of high school basketball. He grew up in “project-type apartments” in Memphis, according to a story in The Washington Post, and was an indifferent student. The high school coach heard of his exploits in gym class, quietly watched him play and then invited him to play for the varsity.
Before landing at Tennessee-Martin, Hudson earned his GED while attending and playing two seasons for Southwest Tennessee Community College.
An abbreviated NBA career included a stop with the Cleveland Cavaliers in which he averaged 24.7 points in a three-game span in April of 2012. This was dubbed “Les-Sanity,” a reference to Jeremy Lin’s “Lin-Sanity.”
Hudson currently plays for the Liaoning Flying Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association.
A day with Cal
Yaron Weitzman of The New Yorker spent a day with UK Coach John Calipari in November. It was the day after Kentucky beat Michigan State. Calipari stayed in New York to promote his new book.
Weitzman’s account details Calipari’s visits to Fox News, ESPN, CNBC and CNNMoney. He wondered how to respond if asked about president-elect Donald Trump.
“Talk about how his job is now to bring people together, especially in areas where he’s weak, which is what you do,” aide Eric Lindsey suggested, “and what the book is about.”
Read the full story online at http://bit.ly/2iUmL6S.
To Shagari Alleyne. He turned 33 on Saturday. … To Mike Scott. He turned 50 on Saturday. … To Jay Shidler. He turns 59 on Sunday (today). … To Richard Madison. He turns 52 on Monday. … To James Lee. He turns 61 on Tuesday. … To Dirk Minniefield. He turns 56 on Tuesday. … To Oliver Simmons. He turns 41 on Wednesday.