Any collection of mind-blowing topics of conversation — alternate universes? the commercial spokesman obsessed with developing an untucked shirt? that “My Pillow” guy? — must include DraftExpress.com’s list of the top NBA prospects from the Southeastern Conference.
Kentucky’s Sacha Killeya-Jones, who did not play after Jan. 21, rates higher than Georgia’s Yante Maten, an all-SEC first-team selection who averaged 18.2 points and 6.8 rebounds.
Kentucky’s Tai Wynyard, who did not play after Feb. 7 and scored one basket after Nov. 28, rated higher than Ole Miss forward Sebastian Saiz, who averaged a double-double (15.1 ppg, 11.4 rpg).
The search for an explanation led to several theories.
1. Fran Fraschilla, a NBA Draft analyst for ESPN, offered an analogy in explaining how the process is all about potential production years in the future.
“We’re dealing with the baseball draft . . . ,” Fraschilla said of the NBA Draft. “We’re dealing more than ever with speculation on first-round picks.”
When asked why he believed this was true more than ever, Fraschilla said, “Teams have determined over the course of time that you’d better get your hands on young developing talent with a high chance of upside as opposed to an occasional veteran who played all four (college) years who they see as having the potential to be a good NBA player. But not great.”
2. Avert your eyes, analytics lovers, but longtime NBA coach Del Harris suggested that numbers are not everything. Evaluating players is an art, not an exact science.
“If you look at just the numbers, then a guy like Karl-Anthony Towns would have been drafted in the second round,” Harris said. “He only played a little over half a game.”
Towns, the first overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, averaged a ho-hum 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds for Kentucky in his one college season. Of course, UK’s platoon system of substitutions in the 2014-15 season limited Towns to an average of 21.1 minutes and made every player’s statistics more modest.
3. Kentucky’s annual abundance of talent all but makes it impossible for every player to fully showcase his talents. As we learned with Hamidou Diallo this spring, less can be more.
Jonathan Givony, a lead analyst for DraftExpress.com, suggested the website tries to consider what a player could accomplish if given more playing time.
“Too many players there,” he said of UK. “You kind of give them the benefit of the doubt a little bit.”
4. As a corollary to No. 3, statistics can be relative to team needs. One team has a share-the-wealth approach, which dampens numbers, while another has a star system that enhances a player’s stats.
“If you took Saiz and put him on the Kentucky roster, maybe he’s coming off the bench and is not as productive,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said, “and maybe Tai Wynyard is leading Ole Miss in scoring and rebounding. Just because you’re the leading scorer at one place doesn’t mean you’re better than a player coming off the bench at another.”
5. UK Coach John Calipari’s open-door policy regarding NBA scouts attending practices helps expose players.
“All the big scouts know all of Kentucky’s players,” Harris said. “They can see them on that practice floor. Cal gets so many (players), they can’t play.”
As an example, Harris cited Isaac Humphries, who rates ahead of Quinndary Weatherspoon (all-SEC second team), Saiz and Maten on the DraftExpress.com list.
“People have seen him in practice, and they know, hey, this guy ain’t that bad,” Harris said. “He’s big and can do some things.”
When told that Saiz averaged a double-double in games, Harris laughed and said, “I guess (NBA) people, they don’t go down to Mississippi as much as they do to Lexington.”
6. Then again, maybe there’s a fair amount of guesswork involved in an imprecise effort to project how good a player will be years in the future against vastly superior competition.
Givony labeled Saiz as “a below-the-rim player” whose intangibles are “off the charts.” And Killeya-Jones has the advantage in not turning 19 until Aug. 10. Saiz turns 23 on July 15.
“A lot of it doesn’t make sense,” ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said of the various draft projections. “The bottom line is it’s all about potential.”
Congratulations to Jessamine County native Chris Holtmann, who will be Ohio State’s new coach. Friday’s announcement that he was leaving Butler to go to Ohio State served as a reminder of how, er, flexible coaches can be in making career decisions.
And there’s a pecking order in college jobs. A program like Butler is a steppingstone for career advancement. Ohio State is a “destination job,” as sporting parlance puts it.
Sportswriter Mike Lopresti wrote about this for NCAA.com.
“Remember when Butler signed Chris Holtmann through 2025?” he asked. “That was late April. The Bulldogs were hoping against reasonable hope that they had him in the bag for eight more glorious years.
“He’s gone in six weeks.
“So it goes in big-time college basketball, this eternal ebb and flow of coaching. Butler is still on the tough end of that fact of life.”
In recent years: Holtmann, Brad Stevens, Tod Lickliter, Thad Matta and Barry Collier left Butler for Ohio State, the Boston Celtics, Iowa, Xavier and Nebraska.
Butler is looking for its seventh coach since the turn of the century.
“Nothing against Holtmann,” Lopresti wrote. “He works in a perilous occupation, which can turn on a man in the time it takes a teenager to miss a couple of jump shots at the wrong time.”
Lopresti called for recruits to be automatically freed from their commitment to a school should the coach leave. “It’s only fair,” he wrote.
Speaking of fairness, that concept was the subject of an op-ed column in The New York Times last Sunday. “Inequality drives all primates nuts” was how The Times summarized what Nicholas Kristof wrote.
Kristof cited an experiment with monkeys. The monkeys received the reward of a slice of cucumber if they gave up a pebble. The monkeys liked this deal.
Then in plain view of another monkey, a monkey got a grape in the trade for a pebble. The other monkey continued to be offered a slice of cucumber.
“This offer was insulting,” Kristof wrote. “In some cases, the monkey would throw the cucumber back at the primatologist in disgust.
“In other words, the monkeys cared deeply about fairness. What mattered to them was not just what they received, but also what others got.”
While reading Kristof’s column, which argued that inequity in pay can fray a country’s social fabric, the mind drifted to the first of Kentucky’s so-called “Combines” for pro scouts.
During the telecast of this initial UK Combine, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas scoffed at the notion of fairness. Adopting a whiny voice, he said those who characterized the Combine telecast as unfair to other programs sounded like third-graders jealous that someone else (in this case, UK basketball) got a cookie.
The experiment with monkeys cited in Kristof’s column suggested that fairness is a deeply ingrained fundamental desire. The sporting world’s objective of an equal playing field is no little thing. Aren’t the rules that govern our various sports set up to produce fair competition?
UK vs. U of L
Former UK baseball coach Keith Madison expressed hope that the super regional between Kentucky and Louisville would not lead to anything ugly.
“Kentucky players respect the Louisville players, and vice versa,” he said. “The Kentucky coaches respect the Louisville coaches, and vice versa.
“But Louisville fans hate everything about Kentucky. I guess rivalries, that’s just how they are.”
This led to a recurring question: Is there more hate in the world? Or more ways to express hate? Or more willingness to express it?
“I think both, or all three,” Madison said. “I think all the above.”
Schadenfreude – a German word that means getting pleasure from the misfortune of others – was on display in the ninth inning of the Kentucky-Louisville baseball game Friday. With victory imminent, U of L fans directed a chant of “Christian Laettner, Christian Laettner” at the Kentucky side.
Of course, Duke’s Christian Laettner swished the game-winning shot in the 1992 NCAA Tournament to beat Kentucky. It remains one of the most painful moments in UK basketball history.
To LaVon Williams. He turned 59 on Saturday. . . . To Chuck Hayes. He turns 34 on Sunday (today). . . . To Mychal Mulder. He turns 23 on Monday. . . . To former Vanderbilt and South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler. He turns 69 on Monday. . . . To Gimel Martinez. He turns 46 on Wednesday.