Emails in on OU’s basketball troubles
The new emails are in, and lots of talk about the joy of women’s basketball and the lack of joy with the men.
Greg: “Great article. I emailed your column to my close friends who are Penn State, Alabama, Missouri, Army, Navy, Florida and Florida State grads. All basically are from schools where women’s basketball has now overtaken the men, or just as you noted, they head to their TV sets to watch. Every night the OU women play, I have these men, not women, but men and all basketball aficionados, gather to watch the Lady Sooners for their skills, their beauty and the fact they damn well enjoy doing what they are doing. It is infectious.”
I hope I didn’t mislead people. I don’t believe women’s basketball has overtaken the men, either in quality of play or entertainment value. But some fans have migrated to the women’s game, and attitude of the players is a major reason why.
Don: “I think dropping down a notch or two in the schools, Division II or NAIA, you still can find STUDENT athletes. My youngest daughter played four years at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kan. There was an older gentleman and his wife who had seats next to us and always came for the girls game and left, not staying for the boys. Come to find out he had played for Southwestern in the 1920s. He told me in his opinion the boys no longer played basketball, and the girls still did, actually running some plays and exhibiting some teamwork. His actions in not staying for the boys came backed up his words.”
This is a common theory, which I don’t support. The women might play a little more old-style basketball – cuts and screens, etc. – but not much more. And women’s play generally is sloppier; more turnovers, poorer shooting. But the women still are fun to watch, as much for the spirit as anything.
Bert: “Loved the article on the joy to be found in women’s basketball. As a former girls coach, I’ve often told surprised friends that I much prefer coaching the ladies, simply because they are better students of the game. They listen better, are more coachable and care more about the finished product.”
Now that’s a great debate. Is it easier to coach boys or girls? Men or women? I think males, unless you factor in the academic side of college. When coaching males, I don’t think you have to worry about emotions and personalities as much. That can be a huge part of the job coaching females. On the other hand, if it’s college, then getting guys to go to class and do their work is a big part of the job. I had a friend who had coached both men and women on the college level; he said part of his job with the men was getting guys out of bed to go to class. Part of his job with the women was getting them to put the books down on road trips and try to relax.
Dave: “You’re right on target. I started following the Lady Sooners many years ago when Sherri Coale took over. OK, maybe Sherri got us interested, but it’s the style of play and enthusiasm that got many of us into it. Her teams have quite a following with the adult sports fans in the metro. You’re sure right about some of the players in the men’s game. But that K-State game was sure fun. Thanks for the kind words on women’s basketball.”
Again, the men’s game has its charms, too. Fewer blowouts. Better finishes. More parity. All things being equal, I would rather watch a men’s game. But a bunch of the time, things aren’t equal.
Ruth: “Your column was right on target. With the departure of the Griffin brothers, the men’s team took on a different persona. They were no longer fun to watch in person. My husband and I only attended one game. Some TV games I chose not to watch. Large egos and lack of team spirit were a real turnoff. Stealing clothes can eventually be forgiven if there is true repentance, but how do we know that? The women’s team is a real joy. Their enthusiasm and sense of having fun, even when the score is not in their favor, is infectious. The atmosphere in Lloyd Noble is positive for everyone. The stands are full of families, seniors and students of all ages who are courteous and appreciative of the young women players. The same is not true at a men’s game. A number of people have told me they would not take their children to watch the men play because of the atmosphere. I hope Jeff Capel and his coaches can learn something from this year and put the fun back in OU men’s basketball.”
I don’t know if this is the right forum or not, but I’ll give it a go. The worst thing about being in an arena, men or women, is the fans’ constant beration of refs. And the worst for several years has been some woman who sits right behind press row at women’s games and yells incessantly at the officials. That gets older than car trouble. She makes me want to run sprint to the men’s games.
Charlie: “Thanks for your article. I’ve never thought of it in those terms, but the joy of playing is one of the reasons I prefer the ladies’ game over the men’s. My other reason, the one I usually give for preferring the ladies – is they aren’t so rough (or physical, as it is usually called). But they are plenty rough. Perhaps you can help me remember; was the game of basketball so physical 30, 40, 50 years ago? You aren’t likely old enough to remember that far back, but I’d like to hear your comments. Or am I just remembering poorly? It’s bad enough that carrying the ball and travelling are not called nearly often enough. Wasn’t there a time when resting (actually ‘pushing’ is a better word) one’s forearm against an opponent’s back was not allowed?”
Yes, the game is much more physical now than it was then. And it’s probably too physical. But some physical increase was necessary. Offenses would be undefendable otherwise. And I don’t know how much less physical the women are than the men. Nobody in men’s basketball hauled off and punched anybody in the nose this season, far as I know.
Jim: “You hit the nail right on the head with your column today. I have become a big fan of women’s basketball and the way they put their hearts and souls into it.”
I keep repeating myself. But I think most men put their hearts and souls into it. But a few don’t, because they are more interested in what’s ahead. That’s the difference. You don’t find that much in the women’s game.
Rick: “Someone in the NCAA needs to recognize that men’s basketball is losing fans. I agree, the women’s game is way more fun to watch. The NBA has totally lost the concept of team vs. individuality.”
I think college basketball is losing fans, but I think it has more to do with the schedule – start in November, when no one cares – and the lack of good games. And I think the NBA is more pure than the colleges. Some NBA players – not all – play team basketball and are in it to win it, to quote Idol’s Randy Jackson. Few pros are looking ahead. A whole bunch of collegians are looking ahead.
Pete: “Earlier you were writing about the OU women’s basketball team, and you mentioned something about the ‘look’ that Amanda Thompson gets, the one that ‘could clear a biker bar.’ I spit out my coffee when I read that. I have attended all but one home game this season and have seen that look many times. It is a very accurate description, and any journalist who can use that kind of simile is damn good in my book. But your column this morning captured a much broader observation, and I really agree with you. I have all but given up watching men’s basketball. Too much swagger, too much ‘me-me-me’ that is so evident, too much unhappiness – as you describe it – so that it just isn’t fun to watch. I have been at a loss to explain why I really enjoy OU women’s basketball, but I have been attending games since before Sherri Coale was hired, and I have grown to really love the game. I always thought it might be because I have two daughters, and I coached them both in soccer, and have enjoyed girls sports since that time. But I think you are right; there is a joy evident in the women’s play that I don’t see in men’s basketball very much, maybe since Magic Johnson played in college, or maybe even back to the days of Pete Maravich.”
You know, I never can get a grip on what words like “simile” mean. But I know a mean look when I see it.
Neal: “You hit the nail on the head about women’s basketball being played with spirit. Whether it be the Cowgirls or the Lady Sooners, the game is always enjoyable. The women’s game is really fun as the players show a true compassion for the game being played. It seems men’s college sports is all about the money. If they are really good, they might make the big bucks, otherwise they return to society as a has-been college player without a degree. Maybe it should be made a rule or law that if you are given a scholarship to play college sports and the athlete decides to turn pro, they should have to repay the university for each year of school they attended. TMG may be a good college player, but until he matures he will just be playing in the pickup games at the park.
This kind of attitude gets us nowhere. The idea that athletes should have to pay back their scholarship? Why don’t colleges just recruit guys who are interested in education? I don’t feel sorry for any basketball program. And why be mad at Mason-Griffin? He was just playing by the rules. He was told he had to wait a year to go pro, so he waited a year. I don’t understand the blame.
A lot of readers commented solely on the sorry state of OU basketball. Bruce: “After reading the latest update on the soap opera known as OU basketball, it may sound crazy, but I kind of miss Kelvin Sampson, or at least the product he put out on the floor. He never had a team with three high school all-Americans, much less any player taken in the first round of the draft. Yet every team except one was in the NCAAs. Every team got better as the year went on and every team maxed out its potential. He had numerous teams that would have been rated in the bottom third of the conference in terms of talent yet every year they found a way to go 9-7 or 10-6 in conference play. Aside from Jabahri Brown, I don’t remember any player getting into any legal trouble or being a problem in the locker room. Hard to believe I’d be waxing nostalgic on the Sampson era just four years after he put the program on probation but this last year was that frustrating. At least with football this year, a fan can be comforted in knowing that the barrage of injuries was one of those once-in-a-coach’s-career type things. Bob has been too good for too long for doubt to creep in after one disappointing season. Capel unfortunately hasn’t earned that benefit.”
Sometimes the very thing you’re looking for is the one thing you can’t see. Sampson’s recruiting infractions were inexcusable, but the guy was a heck of a coach.
Larry: “I enjoyed your column and am in complete agreement. Another negative aspect of it is that these players who have no interest in furthering their education and are just there because they are required to be before pursuing their professional aspirations are displacing someone else. Tommy Mason-Griffin took a scholarship away from someone else who, while perhaps not quite as talented, may have been grateful for the opportunity to get a free college education at Oklahoma for playing varsity basketball. Maybe that person is playing D-I ball elsewhere as a result, but at some level, these rent-a-players are shoving real student/athletes out of major college ball. I believe the current system is unfair to all concerned. It wasted Mason-Griffin’s time and at the same time deprived someone else of a valuable opportunity.”
Excellent point. Truth is, college basketball has turned soul-less. The idea of student-athlete is silly. And the NCAA is an accomplice by going along with the NBA’s 19-year-old rule. High school graduates should be allowed to give the pros a try, and while the NCAA can’t do anything about the NBA’s rule, it can retaliate this way. Don’t strip eligibility away from players who declare for the draft. If they sign with an agent, sure. But otherwise, declare that until someone signs with a team or an agent, he remains college eligible. That would make the NBA sober up about its rules – the draft evaluations would be even more complicated – and the NBA might compromise by doing away with the 19-year-old rule.
Tom: “What a disappointing decline in OU basketball this year. It is hard not to notice the difference in the devastating feeling of the loss the Morris twins from Pennsylvania, Aldrich from Minnesota and Collins from Illinois exhibited after the loss to the absolute almost ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude of these OU basketball players this year. Frankly I was a little disappointed by what I saw of the reaction of Xavier Henry, but I may be wrong (regardless, he fit into the program and sure was a contributor, not detraction, this year). There are still kids that care in men’s basketball. Somehow, this OU staff just appears not to find them or properly evaluate the intangibles and concentrate only on the athletic ability. I have heard some compare the disappointment of this year’s OU football and basketball seasons. Frankly I do not see it at all. Football had a rash of injuries but at no point did I feel they did not care and ever gave at least the appearance of less than their best (although limited by ability and youth). This basketball fiasco had to start with the personnel evaluations made by Capel and the rest of the coaching staff during the recruiting process.”
I agree, Capel’s personnel (and personality) evaluations played a huge role in his team’s demise. But I wouldn’t read too much into anyone’s post-game attitude. Anyone can be dismayed at losing as a big favorite in the NCAA Tournament. Anyone can celebrate a great victory. Attitude and personal conviction is determined in practice and games.
Jim: “At the Y this morning, I heard from a usually reliable source that TMG had gone to class ‘very little’ all last semester and not at all after the Sooners’ last game. If this is even close to being correct, the OU program needs significant revamping.”
I don’t know about last semester. But OU’s season ended on the Wednesday night before spring break, and he basically bolted the Monday after spring break, so at most, we’re talking about two days of skipped classes. In the grand scheme of things, not a huge scandal.
Ward: “Speaking of Mason-Griffin, the sportstalk station in Dallas featured an interesting discussion on the lack of star-power in the NCAA Tournament. Now that so many are leaving so soon, gone are the days of the Patrick Ewings coming back each year for one shining moment. It’s hard to find anyone in the past few years with that kind of draw, and it’s no wonder upsets are happening more often. Where are the stars?”
Kevin Durant would be a college senior today if he hadn’t gone to the NBA. Think about that for a minute. Three years ago, Durant was an unbelievable college player. Think what he would have been – and Greg Oden, too – had he stayed in college. Durant would be a national phenomenon, like Bird or Magic or Maravich. Those were the days, my friend.
Brian: “I read in your blog that Tommy Mason-Griffin and Drew Lavender were both the perfect recruits, but both bolted. You did fail to mention Byron Eaton. He fits the same category as both Mason-Griffin and Lavender. They were all three McDonald’s all-Americans and undersized. I think Eaton was better than both. He stayed on campus for four years and was a proven leader all four years. His only problems were his eating habits and only making the NCAA Tournament once.
I would agree that Eaton falls into that category, and I by no means meant to imply that my list was all-inclusive. I would say that Eaton was not a leader all four years. Maybe two. And I liked Eaton. Liked him a lot.
Wayne: “How important was Blake Griffin’s staying for the second year? How hard did he work to get better for that second year? I would rather have a team of Cade Davises than three Parade all-Americans who only have the NBA on their minds. I think that was what was wrong with Willie Warren this year. Leroy Combs made a statement a few weeks ago about today’s high school athlete. They know all of Allen Iverson’s moves but have no concept of the basics of the game. The screens, the pick ‘n roll and defense is not in their game. How many ever make the lineup in the NBA? Not many compared to how many play the game. Jeff Capel will be OK next year. He will recruit, he will coach and hopefully have some players that deem playing for OU a privilege and the education their goal. My advice to Willie Warren would be stay in college two more years; he will only get better. Get the education, it will be with you a lot longer than the game of basketball.”
Blake Griffin made more money by waiting. But no one gets better by waiting. You get better by playing and practicing against pros, not Ryan Wright and Orlando Allen. I don’t know if Capel will be OK. It looks like a rough year ahead. And Willie Warren should do whatever he thinks is best. The way I see it, he’s put in his time.
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