First Take: It’s Wall’s World
We’re just living in it ’til 2010.
At its heart, my goal has always been for the First Take to be a “national” hoops column. I try to hit on as many different players, teams and topics as I can without becoming too verbose and while simultaneously – and hopefully – holding your attention for the couple of minutes it takes to read this each day. One of the important components of this ideal that I hold is to avoid repetition. Twice already this year I have used John Wall as a central theme to one of my columns and plastered an image of his frame rising up towards the rim to complete yet another spectacular play, warranted, but still let’s keep it fresh. My goal was to make it through the rest of 2009 without going on at length about him, just to stick with the theme of new and informative content every morning.
Then Wall had to go and break Travis Ford’s single-game assist record at Kentucky by dishing out 16 dimes last night in the Wildcats romp of Hartford.
Two things strike me about this performance and both end with the freshman phenom ending up in some pretty high company. After Kentucky took down North Carolina, Roy Williams said that Wall was the most talented point guard he had seen burst onto the college scene since Jason Kidd. Very high praise indeed, but certainly the more I watch Wall, the more I find myself asking if there has been a better freshman point guard since then. The last five years have seen freshman players dominate the college game like never before, yet not one of these megastars played the point guard position save for Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans at Memphis. Neither one rewrote the record books and both took a little bit of time to get situated before performing at a high level.
Now here’s my thought that is probably going to result in a long list of posts calling for my head, but chew this one over. Who is the last player you can think of who is so physically gifted, so superior to his peers in terms of athletic ability, whose first inclination in many cases is to distribute and create? If you said Lebron, then drop me a line and we’ll get coffee, because you and I are on the same wavelength. Now in no way am I saying that John Wall is going to be the kind of player Lebron is, that would be the kind of bet I throw down at the end of Vegas Vacation when I have nothing left to lose, but it’s hard not to see at least some parallels. Wall has the explosiveness that scouts crave and that could easily allow him to torch most college defenses (especially teams like Hartford) yet there he is content to establish new assist records by feeding his teammates, none of whom are his equal in ability. When Lebron was first making his mark in high school everyone said his greatest asset was his ability as a playmaker despite the fact that he was finishing plays in a manner that three-quarters of the NBA couldn’t even attempt at that point.
My point in all of this is that as rare as it is to see a freshman like John Wall experience such a meteoric rise as a newcomer at the college level, it is even more rare to see one who does it with such a propensity for getting teammates involved and actually enjoy setting up the other guys on his team.
Elsewhere in the land of milk and honey – also known as the AP Top 25 – it was a good night for ranked teams with every single one that was in action taking home a W save for #24 Texas Tech which suffered a loss to #17 New Mexico. It’s nice to see the Lobos bounce back from their first loss of the season and pull off a statement win, knocking off the Red Raiders by 15. Darington Hobson continues to be a stat-sheet stuffer in the same mold as Evan Turner and Manny Harris, he just gets one-tenth of the notoriety for it. A 6-7 junior swingman, the Las Vegas native has posted averages of 17, 8 and 4 this season and put up the numbers against the quality teams on New Mexico’s schedule too. Last night was just the latest head turning performance with Hobson sending home 23 points to accompany 12 boards and 4 dimes.
West Virginia needed another buzzer beater from Da’Sean Butler to remain undefeated, but that’s exactly what they got, overcoming a five-point deficit in the final minute against Marquette in their Big East opener. Butler, along with Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks, combined for 54 of the teams 63 points which tells me one thing: all of this depth that people keep talking about the Mountaineers having needs to start playing consistently. A good game here and there from Wellington Smith isn’t going to cut it against the type of schedule West Virginia will be playing in the upcoming months. Having a big three with an inconsistent supporting cast has proved to be ineffective in the past, ironically enough, Marquette knows that better than most.
Seton Hall again made for an interesting game, giving Syracuse everything it had before succumbing 80-73. Jeremy Hazell followed up his career-best 41 points against West Virginia with 38 against the Orange’s vaunted 2-3 zone. Now don’t get me wrong, 79 points in two games against top ten teams is impressive no matter how you cut it, but for those of you thinking NBA for the gunner, keep in mind that efficiency counts to a certain degree when it comes to breaking the pro ranks. Hazell has taken 64 shots in the last two games and made just 26 of them, including 10-of-34 from beyond the arc. I had entire seasons in rec league ball where I wouldn’t take that many shots. The casual fan may be looking at the point totals and saying wow, but NBA execs will be saying the same thing when they look at the shot totals.
Conference play is more or less in full swing now, save for a few stragglers, but that makes for a steady stream of intriguing matchups now through the end of the season, with some fun non-conference games sprinkled in there. Connecticut at Cincinnati tonight at 7 ET looks good on paper, but unless Yancy Gates has a big game in the middle, I can’t see Lance Stephenson single-handedly keeping the Bearcats in it for very long. Baylor visiting Arkansas, which will follow the previous game on ESPN the Deuce, will feature a fantastic matchup inside between the Razorbacks Michael Washington and the Bears Ekpe Udoh, aka, a pair of pro prospects that you likely haven’t heard of yet but should watch anyway. Sadly though, the two best games of the night likely won’t be televised save for locally. Duquesne is on the road at Old Dominion in a great pairing of the A-10 and CAA, both teams have looked very good in stretches this year. But for my money, it’s got to be William & Mary traveling to College Park to face Maryland. The Tribe are receiving votes in the latest AP Poll and have won nine in a row including wins over Richmond, Wake Forest and VCU. Guards David Schneider and Quinn McDowell can certainly match the Terps Greivis Vasquez, who has started to turn up his game a notch in the last week.
So with that recap in tow I will be parting for the remainder of the calendar year. I’m spending the early part of the New Year out in Big Sky country which means I will be waking up at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. ET to catch my early flight tomorrow morning. Don’t fret though, the First Take will be back on Monday and on its usual schedule, just posted a couple of hours later than usual due to the time change, so be sure to check for the newest edition each day around lunch time. Thanks for reading as always and I’ll see you in 2010.