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Now that Mat had to retake the SAT to regain his NCAA eligibility, our room had undergone a drastic transformation. Instead of me studying while Mat goofed off, had sex and/or partied until all hours of the night, we were both spending quiet nights hitting the books. Of course, Mat's attention span being what it was, he could only hit them for minutes at a time, but his study breaks were fairly unobtrusive. The silence in the room had become almost eerie…but totally welcome. (By me, anyway.)
At times, though, our entire floor seemed to be holding its collective breath. There were still a fair number of people on the floor – not to mention in the dorm, at our school, at competing schools, etc. -- who thought Mat was going to be the next big thing on the men's basketball team. The hype was mostly an underground movement because even before he was declared ineligible, Mat hadn't decided whether he was going to redshirt his freshman year. And yet hundreds, maybe even thousands of people were intensely interested in Mat's immediate destiny.
Mat wasn't the only person affected. His situation and the corresponding interest it generated had an impact on me as well. Now, instead of being harassed with questions about whether he was going to play, I was getting bombarded by people asking whether I thought he could pass the SAT (that is, score the 820 points required for NCAA eligibility). The best I had to offer was an "I don't know." And I really didn't.
I mean, on the one hand, scoring an 820 should have been walk-across-the-street easy. But Mat could barely concentrate on a preparation manual for 10 minutes at a time. Did he have it in him to take an hours-long test that would probably give his underworked brain its greatest challenge? I had my doubts.
Speaking of doubts, it wasn't clear at that point whether my roommate could even play the game of basketball. However, the general consensus was that someone that tall should be an instant success on the court. It was all about the size. The lament of most pickup ballers I know is "If only I was taller...." It doesn't matter what a person's height is. If he's 5'8", he thinks being 5'10" would allow him to be a superstar. And 5'10" guys think the same would happen if only they were six feet tall. Six-footers want to be 6'3" or 6'4" or 6'5". The guys who are 6'5"-ish wish they were 6'8" or 6'9". So on and so forth.
The point is, most people -- even people who really should know better -- honestly believe that a few extra inches would be a magic elixir for their basketball abilities. After all, someone might suppose, if huge white stiffs like Greg Kite (and later Greg Ostertag) could have a decade-long career based mostly on height, why not them?
Of course, in most cases, basketball players would do well to spend less time wishing for added height and more time honing their actual basketball skills. Assuming they have any.
At any rate, the mass assumption seemed to be that at seven-plus feet and 300-ish pounds, Mat should be a white Shaq. Although, admittedly, some people had woken from that pipedream a few weeks earlier, when Mat had his official team debut at a "Midnight Madness" team practice. Midnight Madness was free and open to the student body. The intent was to get everybody hyped up for the upcoming season (which was set to begin at the end of the November). Mat's only noteworthy contributions to the event were throwing down a few awkward, barely-over-the-rim dunks and then acting as a prop in a little dunking exhibition put on by the Future NBA All-Star. As in, the Future NBA All-Star leapt into the air and dunked over him, much to the delight of the screaming crowd.
I attended Midnight Madness with Susan and her friends Jodi and Josh (who was crushing on Susan even harder than I was). "You're Mat's roommate," Josh said. "Can you, like, get us into the locker room to meet the team?"
"Uh, I don't think so," I said. The reality was I hadn't asked. In fact, it had never even crossed my mind. The last thing I wanted to do was ask Mat for any favors. He was the last person I wanted to owe anything to.
Since he didn't really do anything at Midnight Madness, no one (outside of the players and coaches, who weren't talking about it) knew anything about his game. Like, did he even have one? What could he do? Did he have post moves? Could he dominate the boards? Block shots?
I was actually pretty curious about all that myself. I had long wanted to see Mat play, and therefore had tried several times to lure him over to the Co-Rec for a little hoops action. He had repeatedly told me that he wasn't allowed to play pickup, that it could cost him his scholarship. And he seemed totally serious about it, so I had to assume he was telling the truth.
However, now that Mat was ineligible to play, the restriction on pickup ball had been lifted. He could play whenever or wherever he wanted. (Well, except for team practices and games.) He even announced his intention to play at the Co-Rec. So, naturally, I was bugging him about it every day. And every day he declined.
"Dude," I would say, "you're totally going to pass that test. You need to keep your skills sharp."
"I know," he'd say. "I'm gonna do it. Just not today."
This cat-and-mouse game went on for a week. Then, one night while I was preparing for a calculus exam that would take place the next morning, Mat returned from a study break and said, "I'm going over to the Co-Rec tonight. You wanna come?"
I cursed inwardly. I really needed to study for that exam. Or, at least, that's what I thought. As it turned out, I could have taken that test in my sleep. But it was my tendency to over-study back then. I groaned and said, "Dude, I don't think so. I really have to keep studying."
"Future NBA All-Star's gonna be there," he said.
"Wha...what? Really?" I said. "I thought you guys weren't allowed to play pickup ball. What, he doesn't have the same restriction you had?"
"Shit, he can do whatever he wants," Mat said.
That made sense. It would have been like the Bulls telling Michael Jordan he wasn't allowed to play pickup ball over the summer. They could scream and yell all they wanted, but MJ was going to do what MJ wanted. And it was the same with Future NBA All-Star. He was the basketball team's meal ticket. That gave him special dispensation to do as he pleased.
I might have been able to say "no" to seeing Mat play, but I wasn't going to miss the chance to hoop with Future NBA All-Star. As I was changing into my basketball gear, Mat walked up and down the hall collecting anybody else who wanted to play. He gathered five other guys, so the seven of us went across the street to the Co-Rec.
“So,” I said, “with Future NBA All-Star, there’s gonna be eight of us. We could totally run four-on-four.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Mat said. Totally noncommittal, I might add.
The Co-Rec was pretty busy. The two downstairs courts were full, but we went upstairs (where there were a few more courts) and managed to get a half-court to ourselves.
Everyone was gaping at Mat. Games were stopping just so people could stare at him. He seemed completely unaware of it. That or he didn’t care.
Things started the way they always do: with everybody chatting and half-heartedly shooting around. Mat flushed down a little mini-dunk, tossed in a clumsy looking half-hook, and then bricked a handful of free throws that would have made Ben Wallace (a career 41 percent foul shooter) cringe.
I was juiced to actually play, but nobody else seemed to be in any particular hurry to start. I was excited to see Mat play, and really excited to play with Future NBA All-Star (assuming he showed up), but I could also hear my mental clock ticking. It was already close to 10 p.m.
Then Future NBA All-Star arrived.
People had stopped to watch Mat walk by, but they openly gaped at Future NBA All-Star. He wasn’t just a celebrity on campus, he was The Celebrity. Somebody a couple courts a way yelled out his first name, and Future NBA All-Star just grinned and half-waved at the guy. Applause broke out.
Unlike everybody else in the gym, the people in our little group were trying to play it cool. Nobody wanted to embarrass himself in front of Future NBA All-Star by acting like a drooling fanboy. When he got to us, most of the guys just kept shooting around, although a couple guys said “hey” and shook his hand.
After shaking some hands and slapping palms with Mat, Future NBA All-Star grabbed a ball and started draining jumpers. He went about it so casually. It almost looked like he was moving in slow motion. He missed one or two at first, then he drained 10 or 12 in a row.
Then he started dribbling through his legs. Again, he made it look very casual. “So,” Future NBA All-Star said, “who’s gonna stop me?”
Everybody in our group just looked at him. Nobody wanted to step up.
“Awp,” he said (yes, he made an “awp” sound), looking at Mat, “they scared.” Mat laughed.
“Tell you what,” Future NBA All-Star said, “you can all guard me.”
We all kind of looked at each other, and a couple guys laughed nervously, but we arranged ourselves between Future NBA All-Star and the basket. I was right under the hoop, which in hindsight probably wasn’t the best place to be.
Future NBA All-Star juked and spun and basically walked through all six of us (Mat was standing off to the side). Again, he looked like he was moving at one-quarter speed. Guys were reaching in and swiping at the ball, but nobody could get it.
Then he reached me. I decided I was going to stop him. For some reason, I wanted to prove myself, maybe even impress him. I set my feet. I threw all my weight into him. I pushed against his body with all my strength.
Future NBA All-Star turned ever-so-slightly, rose up, and dunked like I wasn’t even there. And, insult to injury, the ball banged off my head.
That was the first time I realized -- like, really, really realized -- that elite athletes are on another plane of existence. Their strength, speed and natural athletic ability are almost alien to mere mortals. Future NBA All-Star has barely expended a fraction of the effort he could have, yet he waltzed right through six reasonably fit and athletic guys who were genuinely trying to stop him. And of course he posterized me.
Sadly, that was it. Future NBA All-Star moseyed over to Mat and chatted for a few minutes, and then he left. Everybody in the group was bummed. We were really hoping he’d play a pickup game with us. Apparently, he had better things to do…which wasn’t all that surprising.
As it turned out, Mat didn’t want to play a full game. Instead, we played 21, which is an every-man-for-himself sort of game where the first person to reach 21 points wins. And so, at long last, I got to see my roommate play.
It wasn’t pretty. He had no handles. He couldn’t shoot. He had no moves around the basket, other than bat the ball around until it went in. Now, mind you, Mat wasn’t going all-out. In fact, he seemed to be making a point of behaving so that we would all understand he wasn’t going all-out. You know, we weren’t really worth his full effort. He was still able to dominate because he was a foot taller than most of us (and he had insisted on playing no take-backs).
That said, it was painfully obvious that Mat’s basketball skills were limited. To the point of near-nonexistence. Everything he did or tried to do was awkward and forced. Honestly, he looked like someone who had never played basketball before. He had no natural feel for the game. At least, that was my interpretation.
We ended up playing for only about 20 minutes before Mat got bored and wanted to leave. On the way back, I was walking behind the rest of the group. One of the guys dropped back to walk next to me and said, “Was it just me, or did he kinda suck?”
“It wasn’t just you,” I said.
“That’s crazy,” the guys said. “If I was that size, I’d be awesome.”
That was the first and last time Mat played pickup ball during his ineligibility.Part 22
Labels: college stories, Livin' Large
Easy for Mr. I-am-taller-than-Ben-Gordon to say.
You should have asked Future NBA All-Star to sign the ball that he dunked on your head.
"I wish I was a little bit taller...
I wish I was a baller..
I wish I had a girl who looked good I would call her"
btw I'm 5'8", but if I really was 6' I would be a superstar. i just know it!
Bawful, honestly thanks to your blog I decided to retread into blogdom and start my own. Check it out if you can. www.steveleeismeantome.wordpress.com
Anybody want to lay a wager down as to what Mat actually scored on the SAT?
Bawful - I loved what you said about the size whining, but I do think there are exceptions to the rule. For example, I'm 5'8", but I love banging on the inside and playing like a big man. Even against 6 footers, I'm usually the best rebounder on the floor. But it has its limits - I can't outrebound a 6'6" guy with the same strength and footwork as me. I also love posting up anyone under 5'10", but there's only a few of those guys in my pickup league. So it depends on the style of play. A big man who loves to dribble and shoot can always do so. But a little man who likes to bang, board, post up, and play a blue collar style of basketball doesn't always work out - it'll work to some degree, but it's hard to keep rebounding over people with a full foot on you, regardless of how great position you get. In cases like that, I do think 4-5 inches of extra height would make a huge difference in terms of basketball impact.
My 2 cents, anyway.
First, when you say you got changed into your basketball gear, is that to say that you put on the Larry Bird Shorts?
Second, how long did it take for the Spalding imprint on your forehead to disappear? Just kidding :)
It's fascinating to hear about what it was like to play against someone like that Future NBA All Star. I've never done anything like that, but I've long felt while watching NBA games that the guys really are on another plane of existence, like you said. It's difficult to comprehend just how big those guys are when watching them, and then realizing how freakishly athletic they are at that size (Ostertag excepted) is just crazy.
Also, I'm guessing you probably knew this (and were hence alluding to it), but even though most NBA players have it written into their contracts that they can't play pickup ball away from the team for fear that they could get injured, Jordan actually had a clause in his first NBA contract (called the "love of the game" clause) that specifically said he was allowed to do just that.
I mean, maybe then, you would have realized you had the power of awesome right then and there, leading to a much less sappy and much more confident handling of your posse (Aimee, Cindy, Susan, et al.)
Maybe Taco Bell Jennifer would have started to sing your praises, especially in comparison to your Ostertag-like compatriot's "skillz"...
But I could understand (at the time) not going all out, and trying to protect what was your institution's biggest asset at the time.
Apparently he played in the CBA back before Isaiah destroyed it.
I mean, maybe then, you would have realized you had the power of awesome right then and there, leading to a much less sappy and much more confident handling of your posse (Aimee, Cindy, Susan, et al.)"
Or, if he had injured Future NBA All-Star with that move that was once put on the current Timberwolves head coach, he might as well have run back to his dorm immediately after, packed up necessities only, and run as far from the campus as possible. Lest he give time for the students with pitchforks and torches to chase him out.
I have to say size TOTALLY matters! I'm 5'4" and 27 so I'm not getting any taller. You even wrote in your own post that Matt, Mr. no skills was able to dominate cause he was a foot taller, but have you played a real game where someone is more then half a foot taller then you? You're pretty tall so I don't think you've had this joyous experience that much, 6'4" or 6'2" I remember. They switch and just walk backwards and catch a lob. There is nothing I can do except punch them in the groin, which apparently is not legal so don't do it.
This point was further hammered in at the 2004 all star rookie challenge. I was really hoping the freshmen would win proving talent is more important then skills look at these rosters.
Carmelo Anthony Denver
Chris Bosh Toronto
Udonis Haslem Miami
LeBron James Cleveland
Jarvis Hayes Washington
Kirk Hinrich Chicago
Josh Howard Dallas
Chris Kaman L.A. Clippers
Dwyane Wade Miami
Carlos Boozer Cleveland
Mike Dunleavy Golden State
Emanuel Ginobili San Antonio
Marko Jaric L.A. Clippers
Ronald Murray Seattle
Tayshaun Prince Detroit
Amaré Stoudemire Phoenix
Yao Ming Houston
The rookies got hammer and there is no way they are less talented then the sophomores. The sophomores don't even have a point guard! I realize it was a rookie game and people fool around, but on possessions where they payed attention it was a lob and a short easy basket.
Then about 3 years ago you have the PHO vrs. NJN in like triple overtime, and this happened.
Diaw backed Kidd down from like 18 feet out and there is no way that Diaw is more talented then Kidd.
The only reason why Lebron is so good is because he's freaken huge and has his skill set. If he was the size of Chris Paul the Cavs would be like the same as the Hornets, good but not enough to get over the top. Look at Dirk, if he was 6'6" he would just be Michael Redd, who isn't bad but it's the 7 feet that make him a great player.
I'm not saying that size is all that matters, but it sure helps a ton.
I'm done complaining about my height.
WTF you are holding out on us send to MATT ASAP so he can post!!!!!!!!!!!!!111 :)
"Diaw backed Kidd down from like 18 feet out and there is no way that Diaw is more talented then Kidd."
This is such an egregiously bad example, I don't even know where to begin. Like making a deduction about professional boxing by using two hobos fighting as an example.
"Anybody want to lay a wager down as to what Mat actually scored on the SAT?"
My bet's on 880 SAT score. I bet the entire Internet.
When he showed up to the court I everyone started the "thats so and so chatter". One of the guys on my squad gave me the quick bio but the type of player I am I have to see it to believe it. I was the tallest player on our squad (6' 2" with a skill set to play on a mediocre D2 team) and said player was around 6'7".
First few plays of our run, Duke was pushing a fast break and I stripped him in the lane. A few plays later he hit a midrange shot but other than that I was unimpressed. (I also scored at least half of our buckets on him, but that was more of his "casual" defense rather than his over all skill set).
We switched baskets half way through the score and I mentioned to one of my buddies the words "unimpressed." He must've heard that because on the next play he went through his legs, behind his back and spun baseline to throw down a reverse dunk.
Needless to say we lost the game.
I currently play with a dude who was a former Pro in Greece. He'll win every game shooting with his off hand. Blows me away.
This helps illustrate why this damn health care bill can't get done.
Wow! You guys went to school with Mike Chatfield?
I never played against any of [institution never inserted so Bawful can't delete it]'s men. But I did play against one of our female athletes who was also temporarily ineligible. Her name was Stacy (or Stacey, not sure). At any rate, she was built like me - just a hair under 6 feet, broad shoulders, and I'm assuming the male genitalia.
She was really good. She was a good shot - probably 60-70% from the floor at 12-18 feet, and she had a good post up game. I was able to bother her, but I certainly didn't shut her down. She was also an excellent defender. So, to put that in comparison, I would say she was on par with the best male non-varsity players around.
As for my favorite Mat in-game moment (against the terrifying Athletes in Action!): he once grabbed a rebound. He came down, and then went back up for some lay-up/dunk thing, but lost the handle. He s l o w l y bent down to get it, and then kicked the ball out of bounds. The only thing missing was a banana peel. The look on his face was priceless, though. I think he thought the ball was secretly trying to escape him of its own will.
Steve Nash was on Bill Simmons' ESPN.com podcast today (though it was actually recorded on Monday from what I gather). Right at the beginning of the podcast, Simmons brought up Nash's appearance on Entourage and some other TV work he's been doing lately:
BS: "You're turning into the new Shaq. The Canadian Shaq."
SN: (quietly laughs) "The Canadian Shaq... I don't know... I'd say we're a little bit different. What do you think?"
BS: "There's some dissimilarities, I'd agree."
I then noticed that Simmons posted the following on his Twitter feed: "Hmmmmm. Wish I had known about this before I taped my podcast with today's BS Report guest. http://tinyurl.com/nc4n5g"
So what's this all about?
According to the link, it turns out Shaq's new "Shaq Vs" TV show ripped off an idea that Steve Nash had for his own essentially identical reality show. After pursuing legal action, Nash is now listed as an executive producer on Shaq's show and receives compensation for it. People inside the organization say this led to some shaky chemistry in Phoenix between Nash and The Big Thief. Mix in disasterous bawful coaching decisions, bad trades, and Stoudemire being perpetually self-concerned and perpetually injured with some bad chemistry... no wonder the Suns missed the playoffs.
I couldn't help but think of a video I saw the other day when I read this. For anyone who may have missed it, check out this video in which Kobe Bryant hits not one but two halfcourt shots using only his left hand, and he does so in less than 10 total tries. To me there's really no better indicator than that of the vast gulf that exists between pro ballers (especially elite ones) and "regular people". If you gave the average person 10 tries to hit an NBA half court shot, shooting it however they wanted to, I'll bet they'd only hit the rim or backboard maybe once or twice. Maybe. I know this because I went to the Lakers' last "townhall meeting" a year ago, when they invite season ticket holders to Staples Center for a tour of the locker room and where they get to do a Q&A with the GM (Mitch Kupchak); and at this event they gave everyone in attendance (a couple hundred people, at least) a chance to take a halfcourt shot for a chance to win like $500 or something. Anyway, out of everyone I saw who shot it (a hundred people, minimum) I think only one or two people hit anything at all, and of course, nobody made the shot. My own shot, using both hands, was right on line but was short maybe a foot or two. Seeing anyone hit a one handed halfcourt shot with their off hand twice in 10 tries just floored me.
Dan B: Wow. But still, a non-retiring Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic...
Yams: Wow. Hey, try not to suck Kobe's dick on the way through the parking lot! /Clerks
Dear God, are you kidding me? Trust me, I spent years playing on every court the Co-Rec had, and I can guarantee you that nobody who played there recreationally could have held Future NBA All-Star's jock, not at that time, when he was at the height of his powers.
I mean, you can believe what you want to believe. But I've spent a lot of years playing and obsessing over basketball, and Future NBA All-Star was, physically speaking, on a different level than amateur ballers at the Co-Rec (not to mention most guys playing FOR our school and most other schools...the dude dominated his PEERS too). Easily. By far. There's no question. End of story.
Also, joking aside, the ball didn't hit me that hard. He didn't flush it down with AUTHORI-TAH or anything like that. It was more of a comical bop on the head.
I should also point out that a couple years after this incident, my intramural squad ended up in a playoff game against a team made up of varsity players from the school's football team. They destroyed us. Not so much because they were great at basketball, but they were physically superior in every way. Faster, stronger, better.
I can't stress this enough: the physical gifts of elite athletes who undergo elite training cannot be matched by average joes. They simply cannot. Only the deluded would think otherwise.
This is too true. I played some HS Varsity ball and for the most part, even the most athletic kids were still "mortal". I played in a pickup game with Malcolm Lee of UCLA last year, and even though he is a skinny 6'5" or so, his speed and athleticism was absurd (even though it seemed he was only going at it half-speed).
When I was at college, I played on the number one court, and played fairly often against football players (the linemen, big as they are, are surprisingly quick), and occasionally against a bball player (usually in the summer). I mainly tried to stay out of the way and not hurt them. What, I should fight the center in the post and screw up his knee because he does some incredible thing I've never seen and simply fall across his legs?
Most of you would lose serious quickness by scaling up. Even adding 3 inches of height changes everything significantly, and you'd be a whale. It's why the really tall, really quick, really skilled guys, are truly awesome to watch.
CAPTCHA: "bergar," as in, "Oliver Miller is ready for his 20th bergar this meal."
It seems like the problem was that you guys arranged yourselves kung fu movie style, attacking the big dog one by one. Should have sent out 2 packs of 3 guys swarming him trying to get the strip."
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, so that's it! It couldn't have been the fact that the guy played in THE NBA ALL STAR GAME, and in college, averaged 30 points and 10 rebounds playing against guys his size or bigger, many of them with more athleticism than he had.... hmmm... don't think so.
I've played against a D2 college player (I'm in highschool right now) and he was the best player on the court, no contest.
But the difference in him and everyone else was totally insane. Even against good players (ACC starters, low-level pros, etc) I always felt that I at least had a chance to slow them down, but Shavlik was different. He was 6'11, he could snail 3's, he could blow by me with an array of moves, he could knock me over, he could make pin-point passes-- literally anything, anytime. And it wasn't just me, he could light up 6'9 athletes (who had good college careers) in his sleep.
I also had a chance to watch Carlos Boozer during a 1.5 hr shooting workout. Most people would not believe how well that guy can shoot. You put him in a drill and he's an 80%+ shooter from the college 3. Two things to think about: 1. How many guys do you know that can shoot that percentage in a drill? 2. How good must NBA defense be that a 6'9 guy who shoot's 80% from the college 3 in a drill isn't a very good shooter in a live game?
Its easy to forget how good these guys are when you watch them play each other on TV-- but they really are on a completely different plane.
I wouldn't be any better, but at least I might be able to dunk. That'd be fun...
Not that it wasn't a great read (because it was), but I realized that Mat isn't half as interesting as little Matt's tangled love life. Installments without Aimee or Cindy just don't have that same kick. I'm still waiting to see how putting Cindy on hold blows up into something much worse.
Steve B - Do you know how I know you're gay?
At 6'4" and 225 pounds, I got the honor of guarding the 6'10" starting center, who was an average player. I set my jaw and bodied him outside the paint and actually did ok except for the time he went way over the top of me and dunked a rebound--his only points.
But there was the star player, a 6'8" 225 lb PF who got a cup of coffee in the League. He came down the court alone on a break and I had the angle to cut him off. He went right by me as if I wasn't there at all --like a car driving by, it was so fast--and slammed it home in the wake I would have had if I had been "there" to start with.
His eminence was palpable. I was glad to get to play with them and even more glad to not have to guard the star.
Only ill-informed nitwits.
...which, now that I think about it, would be really come close to describing almost everybody. So in a round-about way way you're absolutely right.
"...I can't stress this enough: the physical gifts of elite athletes who undergo elite training cannot be matched by average joes. They simply cannot. Only the deluded would think otherwise."
Quite similar to how goofballs actually believe Candance Parker could beat Anthony Parker or Shelden Williams in an one-on-one matchup.
I'll never let it die!
However, there is an exception to the Pro > Average Joe rule.
As rubup illustrated above, the rule is only "iron clad" for 1's, 2's, & 3's.
A 4 or a 5 can become a pro (although even this is becoming rare in today's game) based on "upside" or just because he's an big oaf that can run straight without falling over and take up space. Even then the Joe has to be near exceptional and play with the heart of a T-Rex (whatever in hell that means!).