Thursday, March 25, 2004

Local athletes should stay home

I honestly believe that it is in the best long-term interests of most kids to stay close to home when going to college, as students or athletes. This effect is amplified significantly for athletes, however. Now, don't get me wrong, I am all for kids doing what is in their own best interests. Unfortunately, though, not only is the grass not always greener - it's often brown.

I can think of many examples, from both football and basketball, of local kids going away to school only to disappear or, worse, give up a year of eligibility only to transfer back. Here are some examples of local players and their results:

The Terry-Dickerson Exception
Let's start with the exceptions to the theory. We'll call it the Terry-Dickerson exception. There are obviously some local kids who have gone away and done well for themselves. Michael Dickerson and Jason Terry are the best examples of this group. However, Jamal Crawford, Curtis Borchardt, Doug Christie and Donny Marshall also come to mind. All are excellent players who had stellar college careers and moved on to the professional ranks. Props to them. They all obviously made the right decision for them. I still wonder, though, how good those late 90s UW teams could have been if Terry and Dickerson had been added to the Watts, McCulloch, Luton, Femerling mix. Could they have made a title run? We'll never know... Note: I fully expect Marvin Williams to be included in this group - his talent is undeniable.

The Invisible Men
Unfortunately, for evey one of the players who has gone away to school and made it big, I can think of three who just sorta disappeared. These are guys who we badly wanted to come to UW and were heavily recruited by local coaches. Each chose to head for supposedly greener pastures and each fell vastly short of expectations. There is a wide range of success i this group, but all have fallen short of expectations and hype. One example here is Larry Stevens (aka, "The Mouth of the South"). Now, you may be saying, "wait, Larry's had a good career and will likely be an NFL draft pick." However, he's a borderline draft prospect with a lot of question marks. Would he have had a better career at UW as a safety, receiver or tight end? Who knows. I do think, though, from reading some draft evaluations of him that he lost most of his speed and athleticism by bulking up so much to play DE. At UW, he might have become a hero like Reggie, Marques, Nate and Brandon - local boys done good. Instead, he kinda got lost in the shuffle. That is truly the common thread of this group - players who might have gotten a better deal from the hometown coaches and fans. Other notables: Carlos Pierre-Antoine, Dan Major and Luke Huard.

The Marco Polos
This group is a rather large one, full of kids that went elsewhere looking for greener pastures and ended up transferring - some back to UW. Prime example: Doug Wrenn. His saga has been well documented, so no real need to rehash it all here. Might his road (and that of Bob Bender) been different if he'd come to UW in the first place? Other notables include Brian Morrison, o'mma Givens, and Erik Bond. Possible future members include Ryan Appleby, the Stewart twins and Chester Giles.

Now, I'm sure you all could add several key names to each of these lists that I have forgotten. Feel free to email me to toss some out. Also, please notice that I'm not bashing kids for choosing WSU or Gonzaga (or really Oregon or Oregon St. for that matter).

The bottom line in all of this, though, is that going out of state is a bigger risk. Especially when going to a traditional powerhouse school for either football or basketball. Around here, a player is a big star and well known. The coaches and fans of the local school are dying for them to stay home. Then they go away and become just another number in a group of highly touted recuits. It is hard to become a fan favorite at a school like that when you are competing against more highly touted players or local favorites (Bobby Jones is an exception here). Fan favorites usually get a little extra leeway from the coach, especially if the ship is sinking (i.e., Morrison's experience at UNC with Matt Doherty). Local players who have good careers are beloved by the fans, even if they fall short of expectations (Paul Arnold). And I won't even dive into the future career benefits of having a UW degree when trying to get a job in the Seattle area - especially as a former athlete.

So there you have it, my reasons why the grass isn't always greener on the other side. I hope Martell Webster, Mitch Johnson, Marcus Williams, Terrence Williams, Micah Downs, John Brockman and Artem Wallace all have great careers wherever they may go. However, I think they shouldn't just assume that they’d be better off at a "traditional basketball power."

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The (T)ides of March...they are a changin'

It's funny how fast one's brain can do a 180. Normally , when February arrives, I am counting the days until those magic 4 words are uttered...pitchers and catchers report. However, less than a week ago I was still in full college basketball mode. Now don't get me wrong, I always enjoy watching the NCAA tournament but this year is different. With the incredible 14-3 finish by the Huskies to secure an at-large berth in the NCAAs, my mind has been dominated by thoughts of college hoops, the frigging RPI, seeding, etc. But, alas, the Dawgs' run came to an unceremonious and stunningly sudden conclusion last Friday vs. UAB. After a couple of days of mourning, though, my mind began to return to it's rightful spring home...Peoria, Arizona.

Of course, the Ken Griffey Jr. trade talk has helped suck me back in to Marinerland. I mean, c'mon! The Kid was my first "true" favorite player. He was my favorite from the first time I saw him play as a rookie in 1989. I had all of his rookie cards and like 5 of his candy bars (remember those?) that I refused to eat because I was sure they'd be worth something someday. I wonder where those are now? I think they melted or something. I took Griffey's departure WAY harder than that of A-Rod. Of course, I must admit to taking some sadistic pleasure early on at Griffey's struggles in Cincy (not his injuries, though). All of that disappeared with the M's playoff success and Griffey's injuries. Kenneth, it's time to come home.

Now, I'm getting excited for the baseball season to start, Griffey or no Griffey. I think the Mariners have made some solid moves this offseason (more on this later) and I fully expect better years from several guys (more on this later, too).

Props to Romar's boys

With the loss to UAB still fresh in my mind, I need to congratulate the Washington Huskies men's basketball team on a tremendous season. Wow, what a ride! The teamwork, grit and determination displayed by Lorenzo Romar's boys while fighting back from 5-8 (0-5 Pac-10) to 19-12 (12-6 Pac-10) was phenomenal. For me personally, the unexpected joy of watching this year's edition of the Dawgs scratch and claw their way from "Pac-10 doormats" to 2nd place in the conference and a berth in the big dance ranks right up there with some of the greatest in Seattle sports history. It evoked memories of the 1995 Mariner Miracle and the 2000 Cardiac Huskies all in one. As one who has followed UW basketball since the early 90s, particularly since I matriculated at the "U" in 1995, I enjoyed this season as much as any - even the Sweet 16 season of 1997-1998. It was a blast to watch that team grow during my 4 years on Montlake and it is even better watching this group, composed of so many home-grown players (8 Seattle area prepsters among the 10 on scholarship) develop with each passing game.

Lorenzo Romar deserves a TON of credit for keeping this group from falling apart when the chips were down and the losses were mounting. The miracle win at Corvallis opened the floodgates and the Dawgs crashed over the Pac-10 like a tsunami. There were close wins and there were blowout wins. There was the disappointing loss in Westwood that reminded the players that they weren't good enough to overlook anyone. There was the hard-fought heartbreaker of a loss in Raleigh to the ACC's #2 team, the N.C. State Wolfpack, that seemed to spur the Huskies on to another level of play from that point forward. The signature win over undefeated and #1 ranked Stanford at Hec Edmundson Pavillion won't soon be forgotten.

Although the Dawgs seemed to run out of gas, losing their last two - to Stanford in the Pac-10 tournament championship game and to UAB in the first round of the NCAA tournament - one cannot diminish what they accomplished. This team turned the corner and continued to improve over the course of the season. With 8th man Curtis Allen the lone departing senior and four sophomores among this season's five starters, this group is poised for an extended run at the top of the Pac-10 and multiple NCAA tournament berths. The future is bright indeed for the boys in purple and gold.