Ben Simmons Is Very Interesting

January 14th, 2016 sendarama Posted in college basketball | No Comments »

His handle is so good he’s neither right-handed nor left-handed.

He was the pre-season player of the year, a pre-season first team All-American, and the projected number one pick in the 2016 NBA draft without having stepped on a college court, and he’s exceeded expectations.

He doesn’t dribble. He glides. He’s Fred Astaire in sneakers.

His passes are so accurate they come stamped with a return receipt.

Magic compares himself to him.

He leads his team in points, rebounds, shooting percentage, assists, steals, and blocked shots.

He was born and raised in Australia, where his Bronx-born dad played professional basketball and married an Australian woman with four kids. Playing for Montverde Academy in Florida beginning with his sophomore year, he led his team to three consecutive high school national championships and won the Morgan Wootten Award as the McDonald’s All-American who best exemplifies outstanding character, leadership, and academics.

At 6’10″, 245 lbs, with the wing span of a pterodactyl, the hops of a kangaroo, and superior ball-handling skills, he can take it to the hoop at any time.

“One of the best ever to play,” said Antawn Jamison of the 19 year old.

He rarely shoots the three ball… He doesn’t have to.

In fact, he doesn’t shoot very much at all – but when he does, it’s with near 60% accuracy and more than a dash of the spectacular.

He’s Ben Simmons of LSU, the most interesting basketball player in the world.

Outside of the recruiting trail, where he is legend, Simmons may also be one of the more well kept secrets in the world. Ben’s identity, let alone his excellence, is far from common knowledge among the sports fan public, which continues to be mesmerized with pro football. The NFL trumps interest in college basketball until after the Super Bowl. And that’s not about to change.

Despite a series of public relations disasters which would have crippled a mid-size country, the NFL is more popular than ever, and has expanded its reach by partnering with fantasy gambling sites Fan Duel and Draft Kings. Early this season, the sites advertised shamelessly during NFL games. When New York State’s attorney general instituted a court case to shut down Fan Duel and Draft Kings in New York, they wisely curbed back on the obnoxious advertising; but the league succeeded in introducing millions to legal gambling on football.

The mix of fantasy site gambling with the NFL’s intoxicating game action has produced an excitement package strong enough to withstand the fall-out from the bad stuff, which, if you’re counting, includes a) rampant player misconduct; b) Deflategate; c) the spate of concussion lawsuits; d) steroid allegations; e) inconsistent rule interpretations which cloud our understanding of catches, fumbles, and touchdowns; f) too many penalties; g) the Redskin logo uproar; and h) the latest slap in the face, the Rams’ relocation from St.Louis to LA, which was characterized by Michael Powell of the New York Times as “a move consistent with the league’s tear-’em-up, toss-’em-out ethos.”

Two years of uninterrupted bad acts by the league and its players should have undermined the public’s confidence in the game. But revenues and ratings and fan interest have suffered not a lick from the league’s blunders and bad press. Deflategate?… Who cares? Peyton Manning on steroids? … The purveyor of the story, Al Jazeera, left town. A playoff run quickly extinguished the Redskins logo issue. Nothing stands in the way of the NFL. It’s bigger than US Steel.

Ben Simmons Finishes

But if ever there was a college basketball game, and a player, to break through the NFL haze prior to the Super Bowl, the game was the 3-overtime thriller between no.1 Kansas and no.2 Oklahoma on January 4th; and the player is Simmons, who has displayed his full portfolio of skills in leading the Bayou Bengals to a 3-1 start in the SEC, including last week’s decisive triumph over Kentucky and a home win over tough Ole Miss last night.

Kansas-Oklahoma had a lot of hype going in. Not only was it the first regular season meeting between a No 1 and No 2 team in the same conference since 2007 (Ohio St-Michigan), but the teams were reversed in the two major polls. The AP voted Kansas No. 1, Oklahoma No. 2; the Coaches Poll placed Oklahoma in the top rung and Kansas second. The conflict was understandable. The game could not have been more even.

After both teams had blown opportunities to win in regulation and both overtimes, Kansas survived 109-106. “We beat a team that could win a national championship,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. Oklahoma nearly did the same thing.

LSU is not in that category. After a weak non-conference performance, including three straight losses to lesser foes, the Tigers probably need to go 12-6 in the SEC to assure an NCAA berth. If not, then Simmons will probably lose out on player of the year honors to Buddy Hield of Oklahoma, Melo Trimble of Maryland, or Denzel Valentine of Michigan State, who play for top teams. Nor is Simmons a finished product. In a recent loss at Florida, he had seven turnovers in the second half, three of them on offensive fouls. Sometimes he tries to do too much, as when he passes up the mid-range jumper for a more difficult shot or pass.

As he gets used to what his teammates can and cannot do, and develops confidence in his jump shot, Simmons will iron out the few wrinkles in his game. His signature move leaves no room for improvement.

When Simmons rips the ball off the defensive board, and turns up court with a full head of steam, culminating with a dish to a trailing teammate for an easy lay-up or his own thunderous dunk, he indelibly brands himself as a once-in-a-generation player.

And that’s pretty interesting.

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Kristaps Puts Zing in Knicks

December 1st, 2015 sendarama Posted in pro basketball | 1 Comment »

He’s the name on the lips of every New York sports fan, even if they’re not quite sure how to pronounce it.

Following his surprise selection by the Knicks as the fourth pick overall in last May’s draft, a choice which was greeted by Knicks fans in attendance with a loud chorus of boos, Kristaps Porzingis, a 20 year old 7’3” Latvian, who played the last two seasons in the Spanish League, has taken several months to acclimate himself to life in New York and to the NBA. He played for the Knicks rookie team during the summer, and bought a home in Westchester where he lives with his father, mother and two brothers and retreats every night to ma’s cooking. Porzingis speaks four languages, is polite and respectful to everybody, and by all accounts, is a hard worker and a quick learner. He is tattooless.

Just your typical NBA player.

While Porzingis was breaking himself in over the summer, Knicks fans took that long to get his name straight. Recently I asked a group of six serious local sports fans around a poker table if they knew the name of the Knicks’ 7’ rookie, and not one of them got it exactly right.

But after watching Porzingis play, you must spell his name correctly. Displaying a variety of skills which bring to mind the best of Dirk Nowitzki, Larry Bird, and Kevin Garnett, Zinger fills up a stat sheet with a plethora of points, rebounds and blocks. He has the offensive variety of Nowitzki, shoots fouls w/ Bird-type accuracy (85%), and rebounds and blocks shots like Garnett. In wins against Charlotte 11/17 and Houston 11/21, his lines were 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 1 block, and 24, 14, and 7, respectively. Here are his numbers over the last five games: 17.0 pts, 11.6 reb, 4.0 blocks, 85% FT, 35% FG3.

Porzingis starts at power forward with 7’ Robin Lopez at center. His range from the 3-point line is without limits. He gives new meaning to the term “stretch forward.” When Lopez sits, he’ll slide over to center, where he has displayed a lefty hook, a nifty drop step move, and several commanding put-back dunks.

Nowitzki has seen Porzingis develop as a youth in Europe. He pulls no punches:

“He is long. He is athletic. He’s got a touch. He can put it on the floor. He is for real. Sky’s the limit.”

Less than a quarter into the season, Porzingis has already spurred a mini Knick resurgence, on the court and among their fans, who are among the most loyal and passionate in sports. A New York sports fan in the 50’s and 60’s could follow up to three baseball teams and two NFL teams but only one NBA outfit. Most of them will tell you that the 1969-1970 and 1972-1973 Knicks, both NBA champs, were their most beloved sports team ever. The 90’s Knicks of Ewing, Oakley, Starks, Mason, and Sprewell were inspiring but not champions. After 15 years of bad basketball and 43 years without an NBA title, veteran Knicks fans, and the sons of Knicks fans, are ready to explode at a playoffs run.

And New Yorkers waste no time in anointing talented newcomers as superstars. Remember Linsanity? After a string of 20-point games off the bench and then as a starter in early 2012, Jeremy Lin became a cult hero. His jersey retailed for $250 and he appeared twice on the cover of Sports Illustrated. His luster dimmed by a season-ending leg injury and by a lack of support from Carmelo Anthony, Lin left as a free agent in the off-season.

Porzingis will be more lasting. Barring injury, he is going to be a franchise cornerstone for years to come, like Ewing. But New Yorkers need a catchword, a hashtag, to provide a short form identification for their hero. Early contenders are Zinger (my choice, which Porzingis has rejected), Godzingis, Porzilla, and KP. Bland though it may be, KP is the leader in the clubhouse, and has been adopted by teammates and by Knick announcer Walt Frazier.

Porzingis in dunk mode.

Porzingis is not the only reason for the Knicks’ fast start.

The Knicks started 8-6, including back to back road wins at Oklahoma City and Houston. A recent four game losing streak has not diminished their obvious upgrade over last year’s 17-65 team, which was far too reliant on Anthony. Porzingis accounts for much of the betterment, and his presence permits Anthony to shoot less, and more discreetly; but there are other new pieces.

Off their lousy 2014-2015 record, the Knicks were not attractive to top free agents, such as Greg Monroe, LaMarcus Aldridge, and DeAndre Jordan. Having drafted Porzingis and point guard Jerian Grant in the first round, Boss Phil Jackson went shopping among lesser free agents to achieve value and team symmetry. He found both.

He re-signed undrafted free agents Langston Galloway (PG) and Lance Thomas (PF) from last year’s squad for a total of 2.2 million. Galloway came from their D league team. Thomas originally came in trade from Oklahoma City, but was not signed past 2015. A 2010 Duke alum, he was cut three times by New Orleans and played in China for a year. Galloway and Thomas are now key players, averaging 25 and 19 minutes a game, respectively.

Jackson then opened the wallet to sign free agents Lopez, sharp shooting 2-guard Arron Afflalo, and the No. 2 pick in the 2011 draft, Derrick Williams, who languished for four years in Minnesota and Sacramento. Collectively, they earn less per annum than Anthony. Cheap free agents Kyle O’Quinn, Sasha Vujacik, and Lance Amundson round out the roster. On average, 10-12 Knicks get playing time every night. There are exactly two holdovers from last year’s opening night roster – Anthony and starting point guard Jose Calderon.

Unable to sign an elite free agent, Jackson employed other tactics to improve his team – second tier free agency, the draft, and trades. The fourth path to a better record, improvement from within, is now in the works, led by the man they call KP.

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Goat Horns Come In All Sizes

November 8th, 2015 sendarama Posted in baseball | No Comments »

When the World Series was the Big Show, before football overtook baseball in the national consciousness, there were heroes and there were goats whose careers were forever defined by how they performed during those few days in October. We mostly remember the heroes because there have been more good deeds than bad. Since Bill Buckner’s miscue in 1986, can you name one player who is blamed for his team’s World Series loss?

But in the World Series just concluded there was an abundance of goat horns to be dispensed after the Mets’ deflating 4-1 defeat by Kansas City . The Royals were so balanced in their excellence that it was difficult to name an MVP (catcher Salvador Perez got it); but there was no shortage of Mets who tanked at critical moments.

And the irony of it is that the bearers of the blame were four Mets, including manager Terry Collins, who were experiencing career highs following the Amazins’ triumphs over the Dodgers and the Cubs in the NLDS and NLCS, respectively.

Most prominently, second baseman Daniel Murphy went from setting a playoff record for hitting home runs in six consecutive games during the playoffs to making two critical errors on routine grounders which cost the Mets game four and deprived them of a chance to come back in game five. Forget about his homer off Grienke to give the Mets the lead in their pulsating game 5 win over LA. The memory of Murphy as he enters free agency is of Eric Hosmer’s slow bounder slipping under his glove into right field as the Mets’ game 4 lead evaporated.

Following Murphy’s home run explosion there was pressure on the Mets to re- sign him, notwithstanding his reputation for bad defense. But Murphy’s World Series miscues have likely stamped his exit visa from Flushing. Murphy Goat No. 1.

Yoenis Cespedes was acquired by the Mets at the trading deadline from Detroit and promptly led them to the pennant. In his first 41 games with the Mets, he hit 17 homers and drove in 42 runs. His presence in the middle of the lineup almost overnite transformed the Mets from weak sisters to dangerous.

En route to winning the NL Player of the Week award for 9/7 to 9/13, Cespedes crushed Drew Storen for a 3-run triple and homer on successive nights, ending the Nats’ playoff hopes. He continued strong through the first two rounds of the playoffs. There was speculation that Cespedes, a free agent, would command six years at $25 million per year. How could the notably penurious Mets fail to sign him without angering their fan base? After his World Series, Cespedes may still get his money; but it won’t be from the Mets. They will leave Cespedes to the rest of us, including perhaps the Giants, who desperately need an outfielder with pop.

Cespedes’ devaluation began on the first pitch of the series when Alcides Escobar smashed a drive to deep left center. Cespedes tracked it, seemed to defer to left fielder Michael Conforto, then made a failed attempt at a backhanded basket catch. Had the process stopped there, the damage might have been contained to a double. But Cespedes kicked the ball into deep left center and Escobar waltzed home without a slide for an inside the park homer. The Mets lost in the 14th inning, 5-4.

In game 4, Cespedes misplayed a drive by Perez into a double and KC scored its first run. Then, he killed a last gasp rally in the ninth by being doubled off first on a soft liner to the left side. Throughout the Series, he swung at bad pitches, struck out often, and left a dozen runners on bases. His line was 3 for 20 (all singles) with one run batted in. He had disappointed in all phases-at bat, in the field, and on the base paths. Cespedes Goat No. 2.

Murphy fails to get his glove down in 8th inning of Game Four.

Entering the Series, Mets’ closer Jeurys Familia had not blown a save since July. Following Familia’s six out save in Game 5 against the Dodgers and three perfect outings against Chicago, Familia’s 97 mph sinker was drawing comparisons to Mariano Rivera’s cutter. Unlike the Royals, who were content to get 5 or 6 innings from their starters before turning matters over to their very deep bullpen, the Mets looked for their starters to go deep, and to get the ball to Familia.

Game 1 at Kansas City, a see-saw affair, could not have worked out better for the Mets. When KC first baseman Hosmer let a grounder go through his legs a la Buckner, the Mets took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth. Familia cleaned up Tyler Clippard’s mess to end the eighth and retired the first batter in the ninth. At this time, the Mets had a win probability above 90%. But on a quick pitch attempt by Familia, Alex Gordon smashed a high fastball over the centerfield fence to tie it, and the Royals won in 14. Said Alex Rodriguez commenting for Fox, “That was like a win and a half for the Royals. They won the game and they know they can get to Familia.”

With the help of Murphy’s 4th game error, and Lucas Duda’s wild throw to home plate in Game 5, Familia went on to give up two more leads, becoming the first pitcher ever to blow three saves in a World Series. This label is not entirely fair since Familia inherited runners in blown saves two and three; and Gordon’s homer was the only earned run charged to him in the Series. But belying his reputation, he was far from unhittable against the contact-hitting Royals. Familia Goat No. 3.

But no Met had a worse World Series than manager Terry Collins. Following a magical last two months of the season, and two playoff series in which he pushed all the right buttons, everything was coming up aces for the 66 year old Collins, who was experiencing his first post-season after eleven years as a manager.

He did nothing wrong when the Mets lost the first two games at Kansas City. But he was questioned for using Familia to pitch the ninth inning of the Mets’ 9-3 third game blowout, and then again for letting starter Steven Matz begin the sixth inning in Game 4. When he summoned Tyler Clippard to protect the Mets’ 3-2 edge in the eighth inning of that affair, Mets fans cringed. In the decisive moment of the Series, Clippard went wild high, walking two consecutive batters with one out. Familia could not put out the fire, and the Royals won the critical swing game to take a 3-1 Series lead. When questioned on inserting Clippard over Familia to start the eighth, Collins cited his use of Familia the day before.

In Game Five, Matt Harvey was brilliant for eight innings. The Mets took a 2-0 lead in the ninth when Collins told Harvey, through his pitching coach, that his night was over. Harvey beseeched Collins to send him out for the ninth. Collins relented. Harvey walked the first batter and Collins, in mistake number two, let him face another batter, Hosmer, who slapped a double to left . Collins admitted later that he allowed Harvey to change his mind, and that he was up all night ruing his “mistake.” Collins Goat No. 4.

Honorable Mention goat horns go to Clippard, who was simply awful at the most critical moment of the Series, and to Duda, .
whose wild throw home in the ninth inning of Game Five allowed the Royals to tie the score with two out.

Collins’ bullpen uncertainty at crunch time was remindful of former Nat Manager Matt Williams’ decision-making. The difference, of course, is that Collins’ faux pas were limited in time and place while Williams’ were ongoing. Recognizing that, and apparently appreciating that no amount of good strategy could have overcome the Royals decided superiority over the Mets, Mets brass signed Collins after the series to a two-year extension.

Williams has been so discredited that he is unlikely to sniff a managerial opportunity during the next several years. His successor, Dusty Baker, was celebrated at a festive press conference on Thursday. The Nats, to their considerable embarrassment, were reported to have first offered the job to Bud Black. But in the wake of Baker’s demonstration of charm, wit, and communication skills, qualities rarely exhibited by Williams, there will be no recriminations over the clumsy hiring process. The Nats have upgraded big time at manager.

For reporters who endured two years of metronomic answers by Williams about game strategy after tough losses, the sight of Baker at the press conferences expounding on a variety of issues must have been refreshing. No more are the days when all the manager has to say is “We’ve got to get them tomorrow.”

Even Baker may have a problem replacing the key parts which the Nats are sure to lose over the winter, including Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmerman, Dan Fister, and Dennard Span. The feeling here is that Jason Werth will continue to spiral downward, and that Ryan Zimmerman will remain injury prone. The front end of the bullpen requires a complete re-working and the back end is manned by question marks Drew Storen and Jonathan Papelbon. The Mets will challenge even an improved 2016 Nats for the NL East title.

But the good thing about having Baker as manager is that if things do go wrong, we’ll at least get an explanation.

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Nats Post-mortem: An Explosion of Implosion

September 30th, 2015 sendarama Posted in baseball | No Comments »

He may go down as the most reviled Nat ever, but you’ve got to give Jonathan Papelbon some credit. He did what a season’s worth of bad decisions, inept play, and bullpen mismanagement could not make certain.

He got Matt Williams fired.

Williams is general manager Mike Rizzo’s guy. They worked together in the Arizona organization and Rizzo developed a liking for the taciturn “Big Marine.” Williams was NL manager of the year in 2014 and despite his horrendous performance in last year’s playoffs against the Giants, the Nats in February executed their option on Williams’ services for 2016. And Rizzo didn’t sound like he wanted to fire Williams. Just three weeks ago, after yet another game blown by the relievers, Rizzo described Williams’ handling of the bullpen as “masterful.”

During August and September, the Nats played twelve games against the Mets (6), the Cardinals (3), and the Orioles (3) which were arguably significant. In ten of them, the Nats were either tied or leading entering the seventh inning. The Nats won one and lost eleven. In most of the losses, questionable decision-making by Williams figured prominently.

He could do nothing right. Against the Mets 7/31-8/2, in the series which cost the Nats first place, he failed to use either Papelbon or Drew Storen in three tight losses. Against St. Louis in early September, he brought woeful Casey Janssen back for consecutive poundings which cost two games. Against the Mets on September 7th, he left Max Scherzer in too long. The following night, he yanked J. Zimmerman too soon, after 5.2 innings of 3-hit ball and a manageable pitch count. His replacements promptly surrendered a 7-1 lead in an 8-7 loss.

With apologies to James Russell Lowell, what is so rare as a reliever who can pitch a clean seventh inning?

“Bullpen Implodes Again” became a standing headline in Washington Post game accounts

MacMillan defines “Implosion” as an inward explosion. The word is more aptly used to describe what goes on in Williams’ mind as he makes one bad decision after another. All year long, the Nats have failed to move runners, botched sacrifices, made critical fielding errors, and run themselves out of big innings. A manager must be held accountable when a team is deficient in fundamentals. Williams’ bungling has not been limited to the bullpen.

To make matters worse, Williams could not or would not explain his looney decision-making. “We’ve just got to win tomorrow,” was his robotic mantra to reporters after losses.

A baseball fan since the 50′s, I cannot recall a manager whose job was threatened because he made terrible in-game decisions. I guess it’s because most managers who reach the major leagues have managed at other levels and have learned game management. Not so Williams, who never managed prior to being hired by Rizzo.

When I broached the subject of Williams being fired to colleagues after the recent Mets series, at least half of them opined that he would hold on to his job. In the aftermath of the dugout brawl in the home half of the 8th inning Sunday between Papelbon and Bryce Harper, in which Papelbon choked Harper in full view of the cameras, the climate has changed. The fight evidently caught everyone’s attention but Williams, who sent Papelbon back to the mound to start the ninth inning. Papelbon was rocked for five runs.

Papelbon embraces Harper

There was prelude to the scuffle, and some irony. Papelbon would not have been playing had he not appealed his 3-game suspension for throwing at Manny Machado last week. And Harper had taken exception to Papelbon’s head-hunting. “They’ll probably hit me tomorrow,” he said. To the bombastic Papelbon, who has a well-earned reputation as a bad apple, these were fighting words. When Harper failed to run out a fly ball on Sunday, Papelbon imploded. The brawl ensued.

When Rizzo brought Papelbon in at the trade deadline to supplant Drew Storen as closer, there was speculation that Papelbon’s arrival would disrupt team unity. Storen was having a good year and was popular with teammates. But during Papelbon’s two months with the team, during which he performed poorly, he has been more than disruptive. He has shattered the careers of Rizzo, Storen, and Williams, as well as his own, and has contributed mightily to the perception of the Nats as choking dogs.

Rizzo will long be lampooned for acquiring Papelbon. Storen, who broke his hand against his locker in frustration after a string of failures following the trade, is discredited. Williams, as noted, will be fired at year’s end. Papelbon is under contract next year for 11 million, but after that, he’ll be lucky to find employment as a bouncer.

After the game, William advanced the incredible notion that he didn’t see the fight and hadn’t been aware of the severity of the struggle. Had he known the details, he said, he wouldn’t have sent Papelbon back out. More likely, Williams was overwhelmed by the confluence of events, lost his train of thought, and did what he usually does at crunch time – the wrong thing.

Nats fans who have followed the team closely knew Williams had to go. For getting it done, Papelbon is entitled to a thank you note. But mail it soon. Because if one thing is certain other than Williams’ ouster, it’s that Papelbon, despite the 11 million, will be getting a new address.

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The Big Kaminsky

March 6th, 2015 sendarama Posted in college basketball | No Comments »

Frank Kaminsky, the do-it-all 7′, 242 lb. senior center on 6th ranked Wisconsin, averaged three ppg as a freshman and sophomore on 8.9 minutes of playing time. As a junior, Frank dramatically raised his game and averaged 14 points and six rebounds as the cornerstone of the Final Four bound Badgers. As a senior, “He’s the best player in the country,” said Tom Izzo after The Big Kaminsky torched Izzo’s Spartans for 31 points on senior day in Madison last Sunday.

If ever there was an argument for a young college player who’s a pro prospect to spend an extra year or two in school to refine/develop his skills, it is Frank Kaminsky. In the course of four years, Kaminsky transformed himself from an awkward, skinny bench player to a multi-faceted, dominating big man. His father referred to him as a “goof who had to find his own way.” Now, far removed from his goofy days, he’s a certain first team All-American at center and the likely Player of the Year. Kaminsky is the only major conference player to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, and FG percentage. He shoots 75% from the charity line and over 40% from afar. What’s left?

Jerian Grant of Notre Dame and Rakeem Christmas of Syracuse also broke out in their last year of eligibility. Grant was suspended for the second half of last season, and the Irish plunged to 15-17 without him. The episode left a bad taste, and Grant, a freshman redshirt, returned to ND for his fourth year on the roster and fifth year in college. The extra seasoning was helpful. Grant is the unquestioned leader of the 25-5 Irish, and will be a top five pick in the 2015 NBA draft.

Christmas’s senior year leap was even more pronounced. After averaging 2.8, 5.1, and 5.8 pts/game, respectively, in three years as a starter in a star-studded line-up, the 6’9″, 250 lb Christmas became the go-to guy on a Syracuse squad that was bedeviled by injuries (DaJuan Coleman, Chris McCullough) and the premature defections to the NBA of Tyler Ennis and Jerian Grant’s younger brother, Jeriam. With renewed confidence and a jump hook to die for, Christmas is among the ACC leaders in scoring and rebounding.

But for every Kaminsky, Grant or Christmas, there are ten knuckleheads who left college early and are now buried on an NBA bench, laboring in the D league, or playing abroad. Jeriam Grant and Ennis certainly would have benefited from another year of college, and whatever happened to Derrick Williams?

So it’s no surprise that today’s college game is bereft of household names. The average fan must scramble to name even five collegiate stars, let alone an all-american or all- conference team. Fan identification is one of the biggest casualties of the one-and-done rule, which should be changed to a two-year college commitment. Still, the basketball purist can find solace, and familiarity, in the ever-increasing number of squads who are relying on third and fourth year players to fuel championship runs. Kaminsky’s Wisconsin and veteran-studded Virginia are well-equipped to challenge Kentucky for this year’s NCAA crown.

Frank Kaminsky using the left hand against Michigan State Sunday

Kaminsky evokes a bygone age. His looks and skill set are remindful of some great white players out of the past. In facial appearance and with the push shot, he conjures up Dolph Schayes. His all-round game and ubiquitous presence are reminiscent of Rick Barry. As a passer from the high or low post, he looks like Bill Walton.

But there’s nothing old-fashioned in the multiple ways he fills up a stat sheet. Like Dirk Nowitzki, Kaminsky can shoot from mid-range or deep and can finish at the rim with either hand. As a slasher, he’s Keith Van Horn. Add it up, though, and the sum total of his moves is pure Frank Kaminsky.

Kaminsky is in constant motion on the court. At the beginning of a possession, he’ll set a pick, then he’ll slide to the top of the foul line where he can receive a pass and become the point center. From there, he can hit the cutter, shoot, or drive to the hoop for an awkward, but highly effective 5-footer. There is no wasted movement. Hardly a Wisconsin basket occurs without some involvement by Kaminsky.

And Kaminsky has a wonderful supporting cast. The Badgers lack the height and muscle of Kentucky, but they are big enough, smart enough, and deep enough to give the Wildcats a struggle. Wisconsin leads the nation in offensive efficiency (points/possession), in fewest fouls committed (12/game), in fewest turnovers, and in most foul shots made relative to their opponent. Defensively, they relinquish only 56 ppg and enjoy a margin of victory of 15 pts/game in the tough Big Ten. “We’ve got five guys that can score on the court, and we’re unselfish,” noted second-best player Sam Decker.

But despite the Badgers’ balance and Final Four experience, it all comes down to Kaminsky. In their one outing this year without him, when Kaminsky was sidelined with concussion symptoms, Wisconsin lost 62-67 to lowly Rutgers.

It’s not clear how well Kaminsky’s skills translate to the NBA, where he lacks the girth to play center and may not be quick enough to guard some of the mobile power 4′s. But as a college player, he’s the nuts.

He’s The Big Kaminsky.

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