Column: Coming Clean
"Do I hear repeat?"
Those were the words Andre Drummond tweeted when he announced he'd be coming to UConn. And the point of this column is not to pick on Drummond, because those are the same words I borrowed when I made my season prediction last October. You can't blame Drummond for saying that in August. He was still a high school kid, excited to start his college career.
Whether it is a fair assumption or not, I'm betting most of us rode the wave of excitement as well. At least, in my case, I bought into the hype and believed the prematurely printed "Repeat" T-shirts. And with the UConn men's basketball team's season ending in the NCAA second round at the hands of Iowa State, my preseason prediction couldn't have been more wrong.
Now, we as a school and a fan base are left wondering how the season took such a turn for the worse. We are wondering who will stay and who will go. But the answer to the question, "Why didn't this team repeat?" has an easy answer. It's too hard. In a conversation with Alex Oriakhi this fall, the junior recalled how tough it was to make the run they did in 2011. He said that it was so hard to win one, let alone two.
"Anything can happen," Oriakhi said. "This year everybody was expecting a lot. And we fell short. Anything can happen, good or bad. It's hard enough to win one, nevermind six in a row. Now when I look at it, I can see what we did, and it definitely was something special last year."
And with that, so begins the 2012 offseason. It's sure to be an eventful one. Here are some offseason topics, the way I see them.
I think Jeremy Lamb is as good as gone. If I were him, I'd go to the NBA. He is a guaranteed first round draft pick and both draftexpress.com and nbadraft.net have him pegged as a lottery selection. He has nothing left to prove at the collegiate level both personally and on a team. I think it was unfair to think he'd step into Kemba Walker's shoes and be a vocal leader. It's not in his DNA. He's a quiet presence with a great game face. Most of the time in the NBA he won't be the go-to guy. He'll most likely be a second scoring option. People can knock Jeremy and say he's not ready, but his stock is as high as it'll ever be. It's time to go, and deservedly so. He earned his right to leave. Time to take the money.
You don't have to tell Drummond that he could use another year at UConn. He's made that point himself, and said he expects and wants to come back. But whether it's due the APR mess and ineligibility for the 2013 NCAA tournament (which I expect to be overturned, although the timeline between when the NCAA will decide on it, and the dates of when players can decide on entering or pulling out of the draft make for a tricky decision) or the fact that both draft sites have Drummond locked into the top five picks, it's understandable if he wants to go.
Drummond can only benefit from another year of college basketball and the tutelage of Jim Calhoun. He will get better and has a high ceiling, which is why a move to the NBA is not out of the question. NBA teams draft based on potential, and Drummond has a lot of it. This notion by some people that you have to be an All-American to get drafted high is ludicrous. Just look at a lot of the picks in last year's first round.
If either declare for the Draft, there will be people trashing them, saying they ditched UConn and won't make it in the NBA. But if both go, then that's fine by me. It's not like Lamb or Drummond would fall to the second round. They will both get guaranteed millions. Who among us would turn that down?
There is also the possibility of players transferring, most likely due to the Huskies possibly being left out of next season's tournament. Every single player will evaluate their future with the team. It's their right to do so. To sum up a player-by-player analysis, don't be surprised if most of the roster considers a transfer. Among the exceptions would be Shabazz Napier. I'd be shocked if Napier, a carbon copy of his coach, would leave. But I'd also be surprised if this team has a mass exodus.
The last matter is Calhoun. Based on how he spoke on Thursday night, I don't think he is leaving the bench anytime soon. Nor should he. I don't agree in his assessment of the season as "not a disappointment," but then again, he's the Hall-of-Fame coach and I'm the amateur writer. I do agree that there should've never been a comparison between last year's and this season's team.
"I discovered being away from the team for eight games... that this team... put a great deal of pressure on itself for no reason," Calhoun said Thursday. "Last year is last year. It's done, finished, complete."
He added: "I said to a thousand people, we won the National Championship last year, the trophy is tucked away, safe, locked."
Calhoun said that this team struggled to find itself, had troubles figuring out who was going to play what role. They were missing the main ingredient from last year.
As many chants and ovations that welcomed him when he returned to campus, Kemba Walker's impact on a team was forgotten. There was a perception that this team would have a smooth transition without him, that his presence could be replaced. It was unfair to put that burden on these current players. It was unfair to Kemba that we thought it would be so easy to move on without him. Lesson learned: you don't replace a Kemba Walker. His void is too big to fill.
A player like Kemba Walker comes around once in a blue moon. As much as he is loved, in a way, he was taken for granted.
It was tough enough to win one with Kemba Walker. Let alone a second one without him.
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