Keeping in mind that there’s no one way to decide whether to return to college or enter the NBA Draft, it’s safe to say Utah 7-footer Jakob Poeltl contrasts sharply with the typical Kentucky player.
Unlike the 18 players who have left UK after one season since 2010 (assuming Isaiah Briscoe does not make it 19), Poeltl chose to play a second college season. He improved significantly in Year Two, became the Pac-12’s player of the year and is widely projected as a lottery pick this year.
“It’s what we used to see in the good old days when the one-and-done wasn’t the norm,” Utah Coach Larry Krystkowiak said in a recent telephone conversation. “The jump a lot of players make from the freshman to sophomore year.”
Krystkowiak, a Dean’s List student at Montana (3.5 GPA) before a pro career that included a stop with the Milwaukee Bucks, thinks more players should show such prudence. It’s a timely thought with the NBA Combine looming (May 11-15).
“I don’t think there’s enough of those stories,” Krystkowiak said. “That’s why I said Jakob (pronounced Yock-ub) is kind of a poster child, and should be a guy who people look to and say there are other ways to accomplish this rather than jump into it right away.”
Poeltl, a native of Austria, considered the one-and-done route. After averaging 12.7 points and 7.7 rebounds in making the Pac 12’s all-freshman team, he and his mother met with Krystkowiak to decide whether to stay or leave.
“His mother asked me if he was ready,” Krystkowiak said. “And I said, ‘I went to college four years, and when I went out to the NBA, I wasn’t ready. I don’t know if you’re ever going to be ready.’
“It’s kind of like standing at the altar getting married. You can be 100 percent sure about it. But in the back of your mind, you still have some things you’ve got to get through.”
Then Krystkowiak said something stunning to a Kentucky fan.
“My comment to her was we’re not trying to get people to the next level,” the Utah coach said. “Because she said, Jakob is a survivor.
“He can survive. I have no doubt about that. But our job, I think, is to convince him he needs to take a little longer-term vision, and rather than thinking about, ‘Hey, let’s get him off to that next level so he can survive, let’s get him off to that next level so he can thrive.’”
As Krystkowiak explained it, the choice is not simply NBA millions or college life. It can also be the excitement of college basketball “rather than riding in a D-League bus somewhere and staying in a Motel 6.”
Of course, Kentucky and Utah are as different as … well, Kentucky and Utah. Most of Kentucky’s one-and-done players are thriving, although it’s impossible to think of Dakari Johnson or Marquis Teague or Daniel Orton and not wonder what-if.
When asked if he believed there was a stigma attached to players who stayed in college more than one season, Krystkowiak said, “I can see where you’re coming from with your (UK) ballclub. There’s something wrong with you if you don’t come out early.
“And that doesn’t exist here.”
As Ed Davender lay in a hospital on life support last week, I thought about his playing days for Kentucky.
Davender played significant minutes in his debut season of 1984-85, a time when freshmen as key contributors rarely happened, especially for a guard. He was UK’s second-leading scorer and assist man. His 33 steals led the team.
If being thrown into the deep end of Kentucky basketball was a shock, it didn’t show. Davender handled teammates, opponents and media with aplomb.
“He was very poised in his actions and his play,” recalled Joe B. Hall, who coached Kentucky that season.
Leonard Hamilton, a UK assistant coach at the time, said Davender’s habit of giving his best had a calming effect. “He was at peace with himself,” Hamilton said. “He didn’t feel any pressure.”
Doug Barnes, an assistant on Eddie Sutton’s UK staff, likened Davender to Tyler Ulis as a disruptive presence. But Davender gently balked at being billed as a defensive specialist. He would remind reporters that he could score. His 1,637 points rank 11th on UK’s career list.
Then-Georgia coach Hugh Durham did not agree at the time when it was suggested that Davender was not fully appreciated as a player. Durham, who grew up in Jefferson County, found it difficult to believe any Kentucky player could be insufficiently celebrated.
Durham had a point, but Davender was overshadowed throughout his four UK seasons. When Davender’s college career ended, Barnes felt the need to take him to lunch and tell him how much he was appreciated.
An opponent who threatened UK? “We just sicced Ed on them,” Barnes said, “and Ed shut them down.”
A need to make UK’s offense more efficient? “He got the ball to Kenny (Walker),” Barnes said. “He did whatever it took to win.”
Not fading away
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook might be the shot most associated with one player in basketball history. Other contenders? Tim Duncan’s mid-range bank shot? Rick Barry’s under-hand free throw? Steph Curry’s pop-up three-pointer? (For fans aging like fine wine) Hal Greer’s jump-shot free throw?
A story in The Wall Street Journal last week suggested that Dirk Nowitzki deserves consideration. The newspaper called his step-back fade-away “the most-stolen move in the NBA” and an “iconic one-legged shot.”
The immediate thought was this: Don’t coaches abhor a fade-away shot? A player is supposed to take it up strong! Go to the rim, welcome the contact and finish!
Maybe that’s just for shots in the immediate basket area. If not, certainly, an exception can be made if you can shoot a fade-away like Nowitzki.
According to Stats LLC, only 0.3 percent of Nowitzki’s shots from between 10 and 20 feet were blocked this season, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The newspaper said that players who have added Nowitzki’s shot to their offensive game include Kevin Durant. He began studying Nowitzki’s signature move as a teenager. Other NBA players who do the Nowitzki include LeBron James, Kevin Love and Pau Gasol.
“It’s not like the sky hook,” Nowitzki said of his signature shot. “You can easily learn the shot. That’s why a lot of guys have put it in their repertoire.”
Former UK point guard Tyler Ulis could be considered a copy-Cat (sorry, couldn’t resist). His father, James Ulis, said last season that Ulis shot a fade-away a la Nowitzki. It was part of Ulis’s post game, which he kept holstered last season, presumably because he was too busy multi-tasking.
Might-have-been Cat Enes Kanter has become something of a transformative figure in the NBA. The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen did an interesting story last week on how Kanter has revolutionized NBA thinking about postgame meals.
As a practicing Muslim, Kanter observes his religion’s dietary laws. So the Thunder provide him with takeout halal, a term used for foods that are permissible for Muslims to eat under Islamic Shari’ah law. For example, this led to his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates regularly eating lamb and chicken kebabs, but never pork after games.
Teammates such as Steven Adams, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have joined Kanter in eating halal food. But Kevin Durant is not a fan, the newspaper reported.
There are about 8,000 restaurants in the country that offer halal food, The Wall Street Journal reported. The Thunder know the best (Boston) and worst (Sacramento) NBA cities for halal food.
Kanter spent the 2010-11 season at Kentucky as he and UK tried — unsuccessfully — to convince the NCAA to grant him eligibility. This led to “Free Enes” T-shirts. The NCAA ultimately ruled that his play with a professional team in his native Turkey made him ineligible.
The Thunder have tried to accommodate Kanter’s Muslim faith. Cohen noted that Kanter has access to his own prayer room in the team’s home arena. He has access to owner Clay Bennett’s office for prayers at the practice facility, using towels as prayer rugs.
First pitch, Kentucky!
UK’s baseball program honored Carl Nathe with a bobblehead giveaway at the April 22 game against Arkansas.
Nathe had been the long-time public address announcer at Cliff Hagan Stadium. He retired after last season, his 12th at the microphone. Besides the bobblehead, Nathe also threw out the ceremonial first pitch. His fastball defied gravity and caught the corner.
Nathe will continue as P.A. man at Commonwealth Stadium where his euphoric reaction to Kentucky first downs has become a UK football trademark.
You could argue that Christianity and athletics clash on a fundamental level. One espouses love and mercy, the other prizes competitive fight and a single-minded pursuit of victory.
Winston Smith, a central figure in Asbury’s class ball program, had a foot in both camps. He was a Christian. He was a coach.
“We beat the senior class one year, they thought, unmercifully,” he said recently. “The student body president accosted me in the science building. …
“I said, Russ, that’s my style of ball. We press from the opening tip to the end. That’s just how we play. I’m not trying to run up the score. It happened, but that was not the intent.”
Smith, who had coached at a small college in Los Angeles prior to a long teaching stint at Asbury, was a devotee of John Wooden. So he wanted his teams to press like UCLA did in the 1960s.
Reflecting on that long-ago class ball blowout, Smith said of the student body president who objected, “He was right. I should have called it off.”
Last week’s note about how several successful coaches got their start in Asbury’s class ball inspired Terry Faris to send an email.
“I graduated from Asbury College in 1967, and was blessed to play intramurals in basketball, soccer and softball,” he wrote. “Softball was my best sport. As my high school coach (Woody Crum) used to say, ‘Faris, you run like a dry creek.’”
Faris, 70, attended Maysville High School. He is a retired United Methodist pastor who served churches “all over the eastern half of Kentucky” for 44 years.
To Dwight Anderson. He turned 56 on Thursday. … To LeRon Ellis. He turned 47 on Thursday. … To Anthony Epps. He turns 41 on Wednesday.