Taylor’s floor speed and improvement in his senior year propelled him to second round status in the 2012 NBA Draft. If he can improve his decision-making, Taylor could become one of the sleepers in this year’s draft class. After playing two years for the Brooklyn Nets, Taylor has gone on to play overseas in the BSN league, LPB league, Israeli premier league and Turkish Basketball First League.
There are a multitude of names that come to mind when one contemplates the prospects of elite NCAA basketball teams each season. Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, Connecticut, Kentucky, North Carolina and Syracuse are just a few that break through the conscious initially. But San Diego State?
Laughably, one could have been locked away from all things hoops related for nearly a decade and still log that the likes of the Blue Devils and company would have a formidable presence in the midseason rankings. It’s simply that predictable sometimes.
But there are wrinkles. Just as easy as one might be on point in expecting the Jayhawks to be in early contention, one might also blunder and find that the Tar Heels are nothing more than average this season. And in spite of this type of blunder being less likely, there have been times when North Carolina has found itself mending its wounds.
But San Diego State?
Amazingly, the Aztecs provide a wrinkle that is as much surprising as it is refreshing. As it stands, San Diego State sits at the head table with top-ranked Duke and the usual suspects such as Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh and the Orangemen, who round out the top-five in the AP poll.
Head coach Steve Fisher’s Aztecs are a polished 17-0 and remain as one of only five teams in Division I with an undefeated mark. This in itself is not surprising. It started three seasons ago when the Aztecs finished with a 20-13 mark and landed an NIT berth. A year later, San Diego State improved to a 26-10 record, advancing to the NIT semifinals.
The development didn’t hit a snag last season when the Aztecs ran off an impressive 25-9 record and emerged in the NCAA Tournament, where it fell short in the first round to Tennessee. Despite the early exit, San Diego State proved that it had promise, pushing the Volunteers in that contest before narrowly losing 62-59.
So no, that the Aztecs have torn through the season thus far is not startling. That they are being given credit for doing so this early is a different story. Typically, a team like the Aztecs wouldn’t even be on the radar until March – two, three games into the Big Dance. Butler, for example, wasn’t even ranked at this point in the season a year ago. They, of course, went on to play for the national title against Duke.
And no, the rankings aren’t usually built with the San Diego States, the Butlers, the Davidsons, or George Masons in mind. But here the Aztecs are, boasting a higher ranking than powerhouses such as Connecticut (10th), Kentucky (13th), Louisville (18th) and Georgetown (22th). And here they are, 17 games into the season, demonstrating more staying power than elite programs like Michigan State, North Carolina, and Florida, who after opening the season ranked second, eighth, and ninth respectively in the nation, are now out of the top-25 altogether.
The picture cannot be painted that San Diego State came into the year as a dismissed program. After all, they were ranked a modest but respectable 25th in the country in the preseason AP poll. But Fisher’s squad wasn’t comfortable with modest and quickly launched a stone at the pollsters when it toppled then 11th-ranked Gonzaga 79-76 on November 16th.
Critics who devalue San Diego State’s schedule strength thus far should factor in that the Aztecs also knocked off Pac-10 stalwart California handily, 77-57, on December 8th, less than two weeks after the Bears had beaten then 20th-ranked Temple. And those who condemn the Aztecs for competing in the Mountain West Conference should consider that Brigham Young also hails from that conference.
And the Cougars are as well off to a fast start, sitting at 16-1 with a No. 11 AP ranking. This not only bodes well for the Conference, having two highly ranked clubs, but it also means that the attention of the college basketball world should be captured when San Diego State and Brigham Young face off on January 26th and February 26th. What’s equally intriguing is that the highly touted Aztecs defense will get an opportunity to slow down NBA prospect Jimmer Fredette, who is averaging 24.9 points per game.
“This league is very good,” Fisher noted in a press conference this week. “We said last year of those teams that went in that it might have been the best ever. I think the depth is genuine; the disparity between 1 and 9 has shrunk significantly.”
Before matching wits with the Cougars, San Diego State will have their perfect record tested in the Mountain West. One such obstacle, for example, will come Wednesday, when the Aztecs takes on a potent 13-3 UNLV team. Nevertheless, Fisher is as much excited about his team’s possibilities as he is its current place.
“We are pleased obviously with the undefeated mark, but I am happy that we appear to be getting better physically,” he stated.
One sign of this improvement is the recent Mountain West Player of the Week honor that was bestowed upon star forward Malcolm Thomas. It’s the third of such honors this season for the senior who earned the award after averaging 17.5 points per game, 12 rebounds, and two blocks, in wins over Utah and TCU. For the season, the 6’9’’ San Diego native is pumping in 12.3 points per contest, complimented by 7.6 rebounds. As well, Thomas is shooting a precise 59 percent from the field.
“It’s good to receive an award like that,” Thomas said Monday in the Aztecs weekly press conference. “But I have to give credit to my teammates. They give me the confidence to score, rebound, block shots, or do whatever I need to do to win. I really feed off their energy and that is why I get player of the week.”
The energy Thomas speaks of comes from what has thus far been a balanced act. Sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard leads the team in scoring and rebounding, pouring in 15.9 points per game and pulling in 9.6 rebounds. And senior guard D.J. Gay chips in with 11.8 points per contest.
Gay, for one, credits several factors for his team’s play so far.
“I think it has a lot to do with our condition, our athleticism, our ability to turn it up on the defensive end,” the senior professed. “We start to press and create havoc for the other teams and that’s just taking it to another level. Our ability to do that is the reason we are having the success we’re having now.”
And thanks to an anomaly in the national rankings, the basketball community at large is able to witness this striking success in January, rather than postponing credit until March. By then, the Aztecs are being asked to be great twice, as March Madness is a separate season in itself.
Assuredly, the Aztecs haven’t been overly dominant this year, but they’ve been consistent and resilient. Their unblemished mark could be broken Wednesday against the Running Rebels or sometime between now and their meeting against Brigham Young. And even then, it won’t change the fact that the Aztecs have been one of college basketball’s best teams this season.
What this team will or will not do in the NCAA Tournament is irrelevant. Most certainly, a team’s failure in the Big Dance does not undo what perhaps was gained during the regular season. Some will be quick to hold San Diego State to this standard, discrediting this run if Fisher’s crew folds early in the NCAA tourney, forgetting that at this point in the season a year ago Texas was ranked No.1 with a 15-0 mark. Kentucky was ranked second, also with an undefeated record (14-0).
As most recall, neither the Longhorns nor Wildcats played for the national title. In fact, none of the top five at that point even made the Final Four. Duke, the eventual champion, was ranked eighth. It is apparent that the rankings are not a forecast of who will win the national title; what they do provide is a glance at who is playing well. And without question, San Diego State fits the bill.
Gay, who Fisher calls his most important player, admits to recognizing this accomplishment, even while still trying to build upon it.
“We do take each game one at a time, but sometimes you have to realize the situation that we are in and be able to enjoy it,” he acknowledged. “To sit down and reflect on what is going on now and know that we are in a situation a lot of people would dream of being in, you have to be appreciative of that. We take time to think about it but we know that we still have a lot of work that needs to be done.”
– Patrick Green, DraftNasty.com staff writer, has been writing professionally for more than a decade. He is the author of two novels, Josie’s Missing Syllabus and Son Down; and while both works deal with topics beyond the athletic landscape, each exposes a social scope involving sports as an underlying theme. Green has covered high school, college, amateur, and professional football during his career, having written for newspapers in Augusta, Ga., and Charleston, South Carolina. To learn more about Patrick Green, visit www.greeninkpub.com.
There are so many things for the NBA to consider later tonight when the Miami Heat travel to Quicken Loans Arena to face the Cleveland Cavaliers.
What type of fanfare will arrive at the game? Were the tickets swallowed up by the most ravenous fans? How are they being bargained off outside of the arena? Will we have enough security on site?
There is one question that hasn’t been asked up to date about LeBron James’ much anticipated return to his former high school and professional stomping grounds.
Is this just what James and the Miami Heat need to get going after starting the season lethargically at 11-8?
As Aaron Goldholdhammer from ESPN 850 WKNR, Cleveland said on ESPN’s Mike and Mike this morning, “This is going to be kind of anti-climatic. In the last few days, I’ve heard from a few fans that say I’m going to run out on the floor tonight, I don’t care if I get arrested.”
If you’re a Cavalier fan, the last thing you want to hear is that this is anti-climatic. Especially after people in the streets burned jerseys, threw away James memorabilia and essentially blamed the league’s back-to-back MVP for a potential economic downfall.
Fans are energetic, focused and often insistent on making their points when they feel an opposing player is truly a villain. But do they have the energy to remain as volatile for 48 minutes as say a Robin Ficker?
Ficker, infamously known as perhaps the most intimidating fan in the history of sports, was even given a nickname-“The Heckler.” The former Washington Bullets’ diehard fan would often show up to the arena with more information on an opposing team’s players and coaches than an entire NBA staff. Perhaps his greatest technique was his ability to have the exact same seat directly behind a team’s bench for an entire night.
Let’s face it, this was a guy who even got under the skin of Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Pat Riley. Barkley once talked about Ficker in his book. Take this excerpt from the renowned “Heckler” in an article in Dan Steinberg’s DC Sports Blog from November 1, 2006 as an example:
“Some people said there were two Pat Rileys,” Ficker recalled, “because I would make him beside himself.”
His research was never incredulous and it would often serve as the team’s sounding board during an era (1985-’86 through 1996-’97) when they were at least respectable, making the playoffs four times, this despite an eight-year absence in between appearances from 1988-’89 to 1996-‘97. Through it all the man known as “The Heckler” displayed the venom expected from angry Cavs fans later tonight.
Despite his legendary antics, some owners and coaches didn’t feel his enthusiasm had a place in the game. Although he was generally clean and didn’t have to be censored, he would show up with megaphones behind opposing benches and even read aloud quotes taken on individual players. As stated by former Celtic legend Red Auerbach and found in an August 23, 1997 article (Ficker Won’t Be the Mouth That Roars at MCI) by Washington Post writer Thomas Heath-Ficker represented a “disgrace” to the game. Even with his naysayers, Ficker was able to withstand his critics and stand the test of time for over a decade.
Cleveland Cavalier fans could take some pages from the legendary fan’s notorious capers later this evening. While many expect them to be vile and disgraceful, the ‘Heckler’ proved time and again that you can have just as much success with good natured anguish and furor. After all the Bullets simply weren’t that good.
And isn’t that really what the Cavs fans are upset about at the end of the day? Sure, they feel betrayed by James, but to think that they are happy about his new team being three games over .500 when their own team is currently 3 games below .500 and losers of seven of their last ten games. It seems perfectly symmetrical with Ficker’s true dispair as a Bullets’ fan for over 12 years behind opposing benches. Years of futility, or the inevitable possibility in the Cavaliers’ case, can make even the most diehard fans of their team very temperamental. I’m experiencing it right now with the Detroit Pistons. It’s perfectly normal.
What an ingenious thought by Ficker or Cavs fans? Fans actually showing some frustration over their team not meeting expectations for their own city or organization. Still, anything the “Heckler” said didn’t involve foul language or need to be censored. During the late ’80s, he was often featured on NBC’s NBA Inside Stuff and even during NBA highlights on CNN, sometimes even weekly.
But as he stated in that same Heath article (Ficker Won’t Be the Mouth That Roars at MCI) referenced earlier, “Anything I have said could be printed in a family newspaper,” Ficker said. “I never said one thing I regret.”
Hopefully for the Miami Heat and the NBA we will be saying the same thing around 11:00 pm about the performance of the Cleveland Cavalier fans. If not, the story involving the game could be a backdrop to a much dirtier scene surrounding it.
—Corey Chavous, DraftNasty staff reports
Sometimes the first round is fulfilling enough. In other cases, one might welcome seconds. For National Basketball Association teams, it’s not often greed that brings them back to the table after the initial round of the NBA Draft; in most cases, it’s a necessity. Clemson F Trevor Booker (pictured above) is just one of many NBA draft hopefuls later tonight that hope this sentiment has validity.
When the NBA Draft takes place on Thursday evening at 7 p.m. in New York’s Madison Square Garden, history has shown us that it would be wise to stay tuned well after the first round concludes and the camera bulbs stop flashing.
Up to this point, three phases of the Draft have garnered considerable attention. This is no surprise nor is it ill-awarded. The top pick crowns the discussion. Unfortunately, little mystery is generally left in that debate leading up to Draft night. The lottery pot captures the next phase and the mid to late first round the last.
There is considerable energy given to these posts. After all, here is where one gets his Tim Duncan (1st overall pick in 1997), his Brook Lopez (10th overall pick in 2008), or his David Lee (30th overall pick in 2005). It’s safe to say that San Antonio, New Jersey, and New York, are as satisfied with their picks in 2010 as they were when they made them.
But the first round won’t always provide one with a player that will help bring his team and city four NBA titles or provide some glimmer of hope and excitement to a team that lacks any immediate prosperity. Because the first round is also where one gets his Greg Oden (1st overall pick in 2007), his Michael Sweetney (9th overall pick in 2003), and his Erick Barkley (28th overall pick in 2000), players who, for a variety of reasons, don’t end up helping to propel the teams that drafted them.
On Thursday night, the second round selections won’t generate the fanfare that their first round counterparts do, and on Friday morning, they won’t receive the front page headlines. But years from now, some of them perhaps may end up as celebrated sports figures while those that superseded them become barely faint memories, existing more as historical data than present day ball players.
There is a very practical reason for players to jockey for first round position. In a nugget, first round contracts are guaranteed and second round’s are not.
Outside of that, it’s merely texture. Prospects, of course, marvel at status and none likely would welcome openly a second round position if a first round spot could be granted. However, if a current prospect could paint a pattern of his NBA future, which wouldn’t in some way design it after Rashard Lewis, Manu Ginobli, Michael Redd, Gilbert Arenas, or Carlos Boozer’s career thus far?
It’s not the argument here that a prospect would aspire to Arenas’ off court troubles or Ginobli and Redd’s recent injury-plagued seasons. The sentiment is that each of the aforementioned products currently holds air in the discussions regarding the top tier players at their respective positions.
In fact, this summer Boozer will be one of the most sought after free agents in the league. Moreover, it’s impossible to mention the words sharp shooter in the NBA and not have Redd or Arenas in the conversation. And notably, Ginobli was a staple on San Antonio’s championship teams and Lewis is a major reason why Orlando has gone deep into the playoffs the last two seasons.
Yet, they were all drafted through the back door.
In the second round, Lewis was the 32nd pick in 1998, Ginobli 57th in 1999, Redd 43rd in 2000, Arenas 31st in 2001, and Boozer 34th in 2002.
Knowing this should factor into a Draft hopeful’s approach to Thursday night and beyond. Knowing this should impact the way fans approach Thursday night as well.
On Draft night in 1999, Spurs fans were probably asleep by the time Ginobli was picked up. Instead, they celebrated San Antonio’s first round selection earlier that evening, Leon Smith, who was taken with the 29th pick out of Martin Luther King High School. Today, most people don’t even remember Smith and that he played in just 15 NBA games and averaged 2.2 points per contest in the process.
They do know Ginobli’s body of work, however. Since joining the Spurs in 2002, the Argentine has averaged 15 points per game, four rebounds and four assists for his career, made the all-star team once, and helped lead San Antonio to three NBA titles. And in the playoffs, where most players’ games disappear, is where the lefty guard has excelled, pouring in 16 points per game and pulling down nearly five rebounds a contest. Ginobli’s presence in the sport is international, as he led his Argentina national team to a 2004 gold medal finish in the Athens Olympic Games.
Basketball fans remember this. They don’t remember that Ginobli was the next-to-last player taken in the Draft (There were only 58 picks in 1999.)
This story parallels beyond Ginboli. Redd watched Milwaukee take center Jason Collier in the first round before him and Boozer saw Cleveland nab Dejuan Wagner. Collier was having a mediocre NBA career before his unfortunate death in 2005 and Wagner fizzled out of the league with several season crippling injuries.
All Redd has done is average 20 points per game in his nine year career, marking him as one of the most lethal shooters from behind the arc in the league’s recent history. Boozer, touted as a premiere power forward, has averaged a career double-double at 17 points and 10 rebounds a contest. In four postseasons with Utah, the Duke standout has been even better, pumping in 20 points per game to compliment a whopping 12 rebounds.
Lewis and Arenas have been explosive at times as well. Lewis, a 6-10 shooting forward, has made the all-star team twice, and has averaged nearly 17 points and six rebounds per game for his career, spent early with Seattle and presently with Orlando. And after two seasons in Golden State, Arenas rose into NBA stardom with Washington, and has posted monstrous numbers for his career, at 22 points per contest with nearly six assists.
Each of these players has made an all-star team at least once, has been pivotal in his team making the playoffs, and more than anything, has consistently improved through each NBA season.
They have proven that one doesn’t need to be a lottery choice to have success in the league and eventually get his number retired as shooting guard Jeff Hornacek did after 15 playing seasons, two in which he helped lead Utah to the NBA Finals. When Hornacek was a starter for the Jazz averaging 14 points per game facing off with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in 1997 for the championship, no one cared that he was a 46th overall pick.
It would be all too easy to point the finger at NBA executives, but the truth is they don’t always get it wrong. It would be difficult to argue that Boozer was going to be a better pro than Drew Gooden who was taken with the fourth overall pick in the same Draft or that Ginobli would be leaps and bounds better at shooting guard than the 20th overall selection Dion Glover.
Yes, it’s easy to call the card once it’s been shown, so those who voice adamantly that it was evident how these careers would play out are simply showmen.
It is fair to say that in some instances the decision makers get it wrong, and sometimes really wrong. But in other cases, perhaps players are drafted where they should be, and in the process of preparing themselves for their NBA careers, they challenge themselves to become better and through training thus do.
It’s anyone’s guess who this year’s breakout player will be, because as stated, the cards with the 2010 class are face down.
Some players do spark intrigue as candidates. Clemson’s Trevor Booker is one. As an undersized 6-7 power forward, the South Carolina native will likely go in the middle of the second round. However, the former Tiger demonstrated the athleticism and passion in college that may translate well to the pro game. In four years at Clemson, Booker averaged 13 points and eight rebounds per game.
Alabama’s Mikhail Torrance is a unique prospect as well. At 6-5, the Crimson Tide product can play both guard positions well, something he did while at Alabama. Equally, Torrance has a nice touch from the perimeter and can also drive, elevate and finish at the rim. Interestingly enough, he dribbles primarily with his left hand and shoots with his right. In 32 games last season, the junior averaged 15 points, shooting 47 percent from the field, and dished out 5 assists.
While Booker and Torrance evoke images of promising NBA futures, there are dozens of others who might eventually fit the bill. They won’t be seated at a table near the podium, or be interviewed in the Green Room, or have an opportunity to shake Commissioner David Stern’s hand. In fact, most of them won’t even be in the building when their names are called.
But that won’t matter. A second rounder isn’t sentenced to obscurity but for one night. After that, he controls his longevity and his legacy. Because essentially, the NBA Draft decides how you go in; it doesn’t determine where you come out.
Patrick Green, DraftNasty.com staff writer, has been writing professionally for more than a decade. He is the author of two novels, Josie’s Missing Syllabus and Son Down; and while both works deal with topics beyond the athletic landscape, each exposes a social scope involving sports as an underlying theme. Green has covered high school, college, amateur, and professional football during his career, having written for newspapers in Augusta, Ga., and Charleston, South Carolina. To learn more about Patrick Green, visit www.greeninkpub.com.