By Anthony Slater – Aslater@opubco.com - @anthonyVslater
At one time, the ‘Kevin Durant or Michael Beasley’ debate was a legitimate one.
In fact, ask those present during the two Maryland hoops products’ formative basketball years, and you’re likely to hear more about the talented and talkative lefty than the laid-back string bean righty.
Both were big-time prospects. Neither flew under the radar. Their natural skill and size wouldn’t allow it.
But there was something about Beasley, the 6-foot-8 shooter/scorer who flashed charisma and a playing style fit for the more informative basketball scene. He even played a starring role in the documentary ‘Gunnin’ For That No. 1 Spot,’ which followed the best 2006 high school basketball players in the country.
The two played with and against each other from a young age, dating back to their nine-year-old AAU pairing on the PG Jaguars.
And Durant, nine months and one grade older than Beasley, would eventually pave the perfect path for his childhood friend to follow.
The current Thunder star left the East Coast for a brief college career at Texas. Brief, because his undeniable talent would immediately open NBA eyes and flash an impending payday too hefty to pass up.
Durant averaged a ridiculous 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds during his lone season in Austin (unheard of numbers in the current college game), winning Big 12 Player of the Year and National Player of the Year as a freshman, the first to do so. For perspective, the conference’s current scoring leader (Pierre Jackson) averages 19.1 points per game and the leading rebounder (Isaiah Austin) averages 9.7 boards. Individually, Durant torched both of those numbers.
And unbelievably, from a statistical standpoint, Beasley was even better one year later.
Just like Durant, he left the comfort of Maryland living for a quick stint in the Big 12. He went to Manhattan, joined Frank Martin’s Wildcats and immediately caught the nation’s attention.
A historically down program, Kansas State hadn’t reached the NCAA Tournament in 12 years. Beasley, almost single-handedly, changed that.
He averaged 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds (both Big 12 records), leading the Wildcats to 21-12 record and the second round of the NCAA tournament and winning Big 12 Player of the Year (second in the National award behind UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough). And some of his individual numbers and accolades are mind-boggling:
-Beasley had a freshman record 28 double-doubles in his only college season (Isaiah Austin leads the Big 12 with nine this year / Le’Bryan Nash has never recorded a college double-double).
-He had a nation-best 13 different 30-point, 10-rebound outings (The entire Big 12 is yet to have one of those this season / No OSU or OU player has even scored 30 in a game).
-He scored a Big 12 record 44 points against Baylor (one of his three 40-point games) and shot 53.7 percent from the field on the season.
So despite a few off-court question marks, Beasley was the consensus #2 pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, selected by the Miami Heat one pick after Derrick Rose went to the Chicago Bulls (that worked out rather nicely for them).
The hype was there and it seemed warranted.
His childhood friend had burned the Big 12, went second in the NBA Draft (to Seattle) and then torched the league to the tune of 20.3 points per game and a Rookie of the Year nod.
Kevin Durant had done it. So why wouldn’t his buddy, who got drafted in the same slot after a similarly dominant amateur year, who had mimicked his progress (maybe even one-upping him) every step of the way, be able to do the same.
That was certainly the thought. Just take a look at this old video below, dating back to the summer after Durant’s rookie season and before Beasley’s inaugural campaign:
In retrospect, the clip’s somewhat sad for Beasley.
The two clearly view each other (and are viewed at the time) as equals. Durant even calls Beasley the best player to come out of the DC area in recent memory, himself included.
But that footage is the only thing keeping that ideology alive. Because in the proceeding years, those parallel paths have veered in vastly different directions.
Durant has exceeded even the highest expectations. Everyone is aware of that.
He’s already won three scoring titles, made four All-Star teams and led a young squad to the cusp of a championship. He’s mature, humble and cold-blooded, widely viewed as one of the top two players in the world and an NBA superstar of the highest proportions. His career has reached heights, before the age of 25, that not even Durant himself could have imagined.
Beasley, on the other hand, has trended quite sharply in the opposite manner.
Before his 25th birthday, the wild-mannered lefty has already played on three different teams for four different coaches. He didn’t develop well in Miami, couldn’t coexist with an oddly assembled roster in Minnesota and now stands as a bench player for the 17-35 Phoenix Suns.
His once-promising career, now out of its infant stage, is in complete reconstruction. Once viewed as a sure-fire immediate starter, he’s now working through the baby steps of a rebuild job, for his image and game.
But he’s only 24. So it’s still far too early to label him as a bust. And at times this season, including a 25-point performance against Durant’s Thunder last Friday, he’s flashed the unique ability that intrigue and frustrate so many at the same time. There’s still plenty of time to figure it out.
But fair or not, because of the similar paths they took (from pre-teens to late teens), Beasley will always be linked to Durant (one of the most prolific young scorers in NBA history).
Where will each career go from here? Who knows.
But it’s an interesting case study.