As anyone who knows me can attest, I’m an Arizona basketball fan through and through. If I’m Bill Simmons (which I’m most definitely NOT, just go with me here), then they’re my Celtics/Red Sox/Pats wrapped into one. Allow me to get especially Simmonsy here. <changes voice to that of a nasally pre-teen> Ahem, there’s a picture of me as a nine year old, upper lip stained with fruit punch with the master himself, Lute Olson, at his summer camp. I even won an award at that same camp for the all important skill of moving without the ball (clearly, they felt bad for me). Yes, those were the days, when a final four came at least every 5 years and greats like Steve Kerr, Sean Elliott, Khalid Reeves, Damon Stoudamire, Miles Simon, Jason Terry, Jason Gardner, Gilbert Arenas etc. etc. etc. were coming through Tucson with regularity and winning was a given.
Read the rest of my confused/sad rant after the jump!
Now? The team’s been steadily declining in the Pac 10 due to recruiting busts, coaching changes and the emergence of sleeping giants like the L.A. schools and basically every other school except Oregon State. Looking back, I’m not sure that the program’s ever recovered from our historic collapse against Illinois in the 2005 Elite Eight. To continue my Simmons theme — it was a stomach punch game for the entire program.
Which brings us to Brandon Jennings. The heir apparent to Point Guard U’s throne, Jennings has been compared to everybody from Kenny Anderson to Allen Iverson for his on-court flair, creativity and scoring ability. Arizona fans dreamed of him leading a team that would finally turn the page on Lute’s mysterious hiatus and weird divorce saga. With Nic Wise, Jordan Hill and the surprising return of Chase Budinger, a team led by Jennings could have made a push to not only win the Pac 10 but a deep tournament run as well. Now? Like the last three years, we’ll be lucky to reach the field of sixty four and keep our streak of 24 straight tournament appearances alive. That’s how fragile the program has become.
But enough about my belly aching for Arizona. The thing is, I actually applaud Jennings for having the savvy to jump to Europe. This isn’t about screwing over the University of Arizona, it’s about having the moxie, talent and drive to point out the flawed age-limit mandate from the NBA and NCAA. Jennings shouldn’t be forced to make a pit stop in college anymore than a college baseball player or golf prodigy. If the kid has the talent then he deserves to get paid for it. Period. And no one should villify him or his advisors for making the smart move. The NBA and NCAA would be wise to adopt the model used by college baseball that let’s kids jump straight from highschool or requires they commit to college for three years. As the current situation stands, programs like Arizona’s are getting held hostage by kids who are little more than mercenaries and the continuity/security of junior and senior laden teams are disappearing. After all, who can argue that college sports burn brightest when teams, not individuals, succeed? For the good of everybody, let’s re-evaluate things here.
Brandon, I’ll be cheering for you. I honestly hope your year in Europe succeeds and sets a precedent that will scare the NCAA and NBA into action. I look forward to you and Ricky Rubio battling it out for rookie of the year honors in 2009 too. As for U of A basketball? Oy…