Even the most ballyhooed and ultimately transcendent freshman used to have to prove himself before receiving the tribute that goes with being a college star.
The Southeastern Conference unwittingly drove home that point last week by asking media members to vote on a pre-season all-league team. In 2009, the idea of voting for freshman John Wall as SEC Player of the Year took a leap of faith. To jump to that conclusion with Anthony Davis in 2012 came more easily. To not vote for Julius Randle last week seemed more the act of a contrarian than a nod to sober judgment.
Jimmy Dykes, ESPN's color commentator for SEC games, voted for Randle.
"When we look back on January, February and March, he'll be the most dominant player in that league," Dykes said. "And he'll be the guy that coaches — I don't know if 'fear' is the right word — fear-slash-respect the most."
Dykes acknowledged that his vote for Randle reflected the changing nature of how he — and we — view college basketball.
"The last four or five years I had to get more comfortable with it," Dykes said of anointing a player who has yet to take a college dribble as SEC Player of the Year. "At the end of this mathematical problem is a question: Who is the best player in this league? The best player in this league, I think going in, is Julius Randle."
To put that in perspective, Jamal Mashburn did not get voted to the 1990-91 pre-season all-league team as a UK freshman in 1990-91. Nor did he make it as a sophomore in 1991-92. After a pre-season scrimmage in the fall of 1990, a prescient Rick Pitino told reporters that Mashburn would be one of Kentucky's best players ... ever. Still, a wait-and-see attitude prevailed.
Shaquille O'Neal, arguably the most dominating presence on a college basketball floor in the last 25 years, did not make the pre-season all-SEC team for 1989-90. Nor did Alabama guard James Robinson, a six-time SEC Rookie of the Week winner in 1990-91.
Now, quite rightly, youth will be served.
In a list of all-league nominations relayed by the SEC to reporters last week, Kentucky offered up six freshmen: Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, James Young and Randle. No other SEC program nominated a freshman.
And there's only six sophomores, which includes UK's Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress.
Denver Parler, a spokesman for Florida basketball, said he made the decision not to nominate heralded freshmen Kasey Hill and Chris Walker. Coach Billy Donovan had nothing to do with it, Parler said. Walker is not even on campus yet because of academic eligibility issues. And Parler decided to go with veteran point guard Scottie Wilbekin, a "proven All-SEC/SEC All-Defensive player," rather than Hill.
LSU did not nominate five-star freshman Jarell Martin. "There's no rhyme or reason to pre-season SEC polls but that's just something I've done is usually nominate returning players," spokesman Kent Lowe wrote in an email. "His not being nominated now won't prevent him from being All-SEC when it counts at the end of the season if he's good enough."
How prudent. How sensible. How old-school.
One man, one vote
I voted for Julius Randle as SEC Player of the Year. Other players on the ballot all-SEC were Andrew Harrison and Alex Poythress of UK, and Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes of Tennessee.
My order of finish was: 1. Kentucky, 2. Florida, 3. Tennessee, 4. LSU, 5. Texas A&M, 6. Alabama, 7. Missouri, 8. Arkansas, 9. Ole Miss, 10. South Carolina, 11. Mississippi State, 12. Georgia, 13. Auburn, 14. Vanderbilt
Fair or foul?
During John Calipari's appearance at the Lexington Rotary Club Thursday, a Rotarian asked if Kentucky would press more this season. This gave the UK coach the chance to applaud the NCAA's intention to call games more tightly this season. The rationale being if defenses are declawed, fans can enjoy games featuring more finesse and more scoring.
"They say they're going to call 70 fouls a game till people stop fouling," Calipari said, "and I love it."
Of course, a tightly called game favors a Kentucky team reliant on the so-called dribble-drive offense.
Calipari never mentioned Louisville. But he's often suggested that U of L hacks, grabs, holds, bumps and bangs its way to success in Rick Pitino's signature pressure defense.
But 70 fouls? That sounded like a lot, especially when UK games have never averaged as many as 38 total fouls in Calipari's four previous seasons as coach. And UK games never averaged more than 44.7 fouls (1991-92) during the eight seasons featuring Pitino's frenetic pressing, trapping, denying, denuding style.
Jake Bell, the SEC's new supervisor of officials, did not balk when asked about the possibility of 70 fouls in a game.
"It's a nationwide mandate," he said. Rather than a point of emphasis, which suggests a wide range of interpretations, the move to reduce contact is "a rule," Bell said. The 20 coordinators of officials who represent the 31 Division I conferences voted unanimously for the change. The refs will look to whistle such maneuvers as hip bumps, "significant" use of hands, forearms, elbows and what's known as "re-routing." That last one is a personal peeve: defenders who body drivers off a clear path to the basket.
Of course, to call foul after foul is to invite fan frustration. It sounds counterintuitive to the notion of referees defusing the natural emotions of the game.
"We just have to enforce the rules as written," Bell said. "That's going to be our message. ... If we don't do what we're supposed to do, we lose credibility."
Scrimmages and exhibition games can serve as a way to introduce players, coaches and fans to this new reality, Bell said. UK plays its Blue-White Game on Oct. 29. The exhibition games are Nov. 1 (Transylvania) and Nov. 4 (Montevallo).
"Win the game on the floor," Bell said, "and not in the weight room."
Elijah Thomas, a 6-foot-9 power forward from Rockwall, Texas, follows in the footsteps of such trendsetters as Amar'e Stoudemire and LeBron James. Each extended the boundaries of recruiting into previously unthinkable realms of absurdity.
Stoudemire, who played for six different high schools, arrived in Indianapolis for a Nike-sponsored recruiting camp around the year 2000 accompanied by a personal publicist. The aide distributed biographical information to reporters. On the plus side, Stoudemire proceeded to actually play in the camp.
A year or two later, James came to an Adidas-sponsored camp in New Jersey. He made no pretense about even considering college nor did he feel the need to display his basketball wares for college coaches. He came to the camp to hold a news conference to announce he would consider bids from shoe companies who might want him to pitch their products.
Now comes Thomas, who is ranked sixth overall in the Class of 2015 by ESPN and ninth overall by Rivals. He tweeted on Monday that he would announce his top 24 schools in increments of eight over the next three days. "So I can move forward with the process before cutting it to 12 due to the relationships I've established," Thomas tweeted.
Tuesday's partial list was Alabama, Missouri, Georgetown, Michigan, SMU, Florida, LSU and Oklahoma.
On Wednesday he listed Oregon, Texas A&M, Ohio State, Southern Cal, North Carolina, N.C. State, Oklahoma State and Minnesota.
Then on Thursday came TCU, Louisville, Illinois, Indiana, Texas, Baylor, UNLV and Arizona.
Ben Roberts, who covers recruiting for the Herald-Leader, noted the programs missing from the lists which were presumed to be interested: Kentucky, Duke and Kansas.
If memory serves, Kentucky aspires to be college basketball's gold standard in all areas. Last season's monitoring of heart rates (as a means of measuring exertion) and the opening of a $3 million locker room (as a means of luxuriating) were touted as state-of-the-art developments befitting the sport's marquee program.
Whatever the validity of those claims, UK undoubtably has catching up to do when it comes to statistical analysis.
Duke can claim the lead in stat-keeping with last week's announcement that Mike Krzyzewski's program will include a SportsVU system in Cameron Indoor Stadium and its practice facility this coming season.
The system involves electronic tracking of players, referees and the ball 25 times per second.
All 30 NBA teams will have SportsVU in their arenas this coming season. By sharing the BMO Harris Bradley Center with the Milwaukee Bucks, Marquette will become a second college program with access to the system.
College basketball got its first taste of SportsVU during the Big Ten Tournament last March.
Blue Ribbon placed Kentucky second in its pre-season poll. Michigan State was No. 1 and Louisville No. 3.
Editor Chris Dortch said that rating Kentucky No. 2 rather than No. 1 did not spark much of a reaction from UK fans. This evoked memories of the reaction to another pre-season publication, Street & Smith's, placing Kentucky No. 2 in its poll for, say, the 1986-87 season.
Then-editor Jim O'Brien described the resulting howls of protest as UK fans demanding to know "How could you rate us so low?!"
To learn more about how Blue Ribbon rates and dissects teams, fans can order the 33rd edition of the yearbook online at blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.
An eagle-eyed reader noticed a mistake in Friday's story about John Calipari's appearance at the Lexington Rotary Club.
In comparing the difficulty of rebuilding efforts, he noted that a mere two or three players can revive a basketball program. Football requires a "cavalry." The story mistakenly had the word "calvary."
Of course, cavalry is a contingent of soldiers. Calvary is a hill outside Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified.
To Todd Ziegler. He turns 48 on Wednesday. ... To Mike Ballenger. He turned 51 on Friday. ... To Mark Krebs. He turned 27 on Thursday. ... To Matt Scherbenske. He turns 26 on Monday.