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Vol. 44, No. 2 • February 2007 • .pdf version
Year of the Freshman changes our Pursuit of the Story
By DICK JERARDI / Philadelphia Daily News
One of the best parts of this job is getting to know players over four years. You can establish relationships and a certain trust factor. You do this long enough and you can sense when to push hard and when to pull back. Be fair and you are far more likely to get a chance at some real insights.
Which brings us to the 2006-07 season, the Year of the Freshman. Nobody would dispute this is one of the great freshman classes in recent seasons. Nor would anybody dispute the reason: All those great freshmen would be in the NBA if it were not for the new rule that won't let them in the draft until the year after their high school class graduates.
It is great to see Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Brandan Wright and all the rest. I have spoken with Oden, so I can attest to what a high-class 18-year-old he is. I don't know Durant and Wright, but I have not heard anything negative about either. Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt told me Thaddeus Young is among the more unique young people he has encountered.
I know Wayne Ellington and Gerald Henderson a little bit because they went to school at Episcopal Academy right across the Philadelphia city line from Saint Joseph's.
I don't cover any of the great freshmen on a daily basis, but I wonder about those who do. Will they be able to establish the relationships that eventually lead to better stories, the kind that tell readers something they do not know or had not considered. It is about the games, but it is also about the people who play the games. Those are the stories that have made college basketball so interesting for so long.
Look, this is not a rant against freshmen leaving early for the NBA. I can't imagine why Oden, Durant, Wright or any player with the kind of opportunity they will have would not leave after this season. Staying in school simply would not make much sense.
If basketball is, in fact, going to be their profession, why not get started as early as possible?
This is just an ode to a simpler time, when we really got to know players.
And they knew us as something more than a voice with a notebook or tape recorder.
I had the great fortune to cover Lionel Simmons' entire four seasons at La Salle. By the time Simmons was named national player of the year as a senior in 1990, I knew him and he knew me. He was always willing to share his thoughts, even when he missed two late free throws that cost his team a big game.
A decade later, I got on board for Jameer Nelson's four-year ride at Saint Joseph's. Media times had changed, but, for me, it was really the same. Keep showing up. Ask questions. Pay attention. Get comfortable with the player so that the player can get comfortable with you. And by the time Nelson was named national player of the year in 2004, I felt like I already knew him.
The best teams to cover this year have to be Butler and Air Force, with seniors all over the overachieving rosters. I don't know the stories there, but I can guarantee they are there.
There are no stars at either school, but lots of seniors. In March and in stories, seniors still matter.
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