Before I proceed to the article, a quick confession: I hate introductions. From that first day of kindergarten when I pissed my pants when Mrs. Levinstein made me stand up in front of the rest of the class and state my name, I’ve despised them. They are awkward, generally uncomfortable, and they are a means to get to know someone who you probably are not going to like.
However, all that being said, I would like to introduce myself to you Every Month Should Be March readers. My name is Dalton Patterson and I am the newest writer for the blog. Anyway, on to the article…
It seems ironic that it appears that my fellow writers at Every Month Should Be March only seem to have watched college basketball this season in November. This can be the only explanation for how they decided that Kyrie Irving should be the number one overall pick. I guess it is understandable. If you’ve been following the World Wide Leader the past few months (aka the Duke Propaganda Channel, DPC for short) it would really appear that the 2011 NBA Draft should simply be entitled “Kyrie and the Miracles” because except for the golden boy, no one else really has a chance at the top spot. I beg to differ. There is one transcendent talent in the draft, but he is not from Durham, Tucson, or Lexington. His name: Kemba Walker. Here are my top five reasons that he is the clear number one pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
1. Pedigree - Duke produces great basketball teams, Jim Calhoun and UConn produces great basketball talent. Slapping the floor and huddling at the free throw line works great in Cameron and at the Final Four, not so much in the NBA. Give me Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, and J.J. Redick in Greensboro, NC for the ACC tourney every year. But if I own an NBA franchise? I’ll take Ray Allen, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Rip Hamilton, and Clifford Robinson. Thank you. (Although feel free to share Hasheem Thabeet jokes amongst yourselves).
2. The Conference - The Big East, for the past couple of years, has CLEARLY been the best basketball conference in the country. Now, some of you donkeys might tout the merits of the Big 12 or the ACC, but it’s a fool’s errand. The Big 12 and the ACC are incredibly top-heavy and simply lack the depth of the Big East (and for the ACC fans that still want to say what an idiot I am fine, knock yourself out. But the Big East has dominated the matchup between the two conferences in recent years- see St. John’s vs. Duke last year. Furthermore, take out Carolina and Duke and the ACC is basically the A-10 with a more Southern fan base. But I digress). Kemba, who is 6’1 and weighs around 170 pounds soaking wet, dominated the Big East this year, college basketball’s answer to SEC football, in a measure that has not been seen since Allen Iverson was on the Hilltop. Irving might be a good player, but his entire body of work was high school and a good game against an overrated Michigan State team. Not quite the Big East. This actually brings us to…
3. Experience - The point guard position requires vision, great ball handling, passing skill, but, most of all, experience. Irving is a good passer (so was Sebastian Telfair), but he simply does not have Kemba Walker’s experience. It’s not Irving’s fault he got injured, but history has shown that point guards with significant college experience tend to turn out better than those that don’t. Guys like Jason Kidd, Rajon Rondo, Steve Nash, Deron Williams, Jameer Nelson, and Chris Paul all played at least two years in college. What about Derek Rose, Russell Westbrook, and John Wall, you ask? Well although they only played one year, they played a FULL year and led their team to deep tournament runs. March basketball is a lot different from November warm-up games.
4. Leadership - And experience does not come simply from the basketball court. Kemba experienced a lot during his three years in Storrs. The UConn team his freshman year made the Final Four despite losing several key players. His sophomore year, the Huskies completely fell apart as a result of some bad apples and Calhoun’s departure from the team due to an illness (and emerging allegations regarding improper benefits given to a former player). Kemba’s junior year, the team was mostly composed of freshman. There were two seniors, but they rarely played.
Yet to his credit, Kemba overcame this adversity, put a young UConn team on his back, and led them to a championship. A point guard needs to be a leader, and a true leadership only emerges through adversity. Kyrie is a good player, but he is a young player. Moreover, the Duke team this year was led by a team of mature seniors. Kyrie did not take the point guard spot from a temperamental guy like Jerome Dyson. Instead, he took over Nolan Smith’s former position. Smith is an upstanding guy who made the transition easy on Irving. Kyrie was lucky, in this respect, in the short-term. But not for the long haul. Kemba’s experiences have molded him into a GREAT leader. But great leaders aren’t necessarily good basketball players, which brings us finally to….
5. The Run
It started in Maui (where an unranked UConn team finished the weekend ranked in the top ten) and did not finish until the Final Four. In November, in a game against Kentucky and Brandon Knight, a consensus top ten prospect, Kemba poured in 29 points, and added 6 assists and two steals in a UConn win. The regular season was also highlighted by Kemba’s game winner against a Tristan Thompson and Jordan Hamilton led Texas squad and Kemba’s domination of Chris Wright (pre-injury) in a Huskies win over the Hoyas in Storrs.
But the regular season was simply a sample of things to come. At noon, Tuesday, March 8, at the Mecca of basketball, Madison Square Garden, Kemba Walker made history. No team had won the Big East tournament playing five games in a row. But Kemba and the Huskies did.
Next was the NCAA tournament. Now we know already that the Huskies won, so I won’t bore you with the details. However, what must be noted are the teams and players who Kemba beat, and how he beat them. He put up 33 and five against a big, physical Cincinnati team. He put up 36 and beat a San Diego State team which was incredibly athletic and featured Kawhi Leonard. Kemba had 20 points and 7 assists against a Derrick Williams led Arizona team (a team that dominated Kyrie Irving’s Duke team the game before) in the Elite Eight. The next game he put up 18 and 7 against Kentucky in the Final Four and (again) outplayed Brandon Knight. The championship was ugly against Butler, yet Kemba was still the best player on the floor en route to a Huskies championship.
Kemba won the Big East Tournament, then beat Cincy, San Diego State, Arizona, Duke, Kentucky, and Butler in consecutive games. These teams were the cream of the 2011 college basketball crop…not a bad run.
6. Allen Iverson
So I lied about only five reasons that Kemba should be the top pick. But the Iverson comparison simply cannot be ignored. Here are Iverson’s and Kemba’s stats from their last year in college:
KEMBA WALKER ALLEN IVERSON
Height: 6’1 Height: 6’0
Weight: 171 Weight: 165
PPG: 23.5 PPG: 25
APG: 4.5 APG: 4.7
STL: 2 STL: 3
The similarities are rather eerie. Iverson was the number one overall pick in the ’96 draft and entered the NBA with the same criticisms that Kemba is enduring now. Yet Iverson made multiple All-Star teams, was an MVP, and led an overmatched Sixers team to the NBA finals. Kemba has the potential to be equally as explosive and achieved much more in college than Iverson. Am I missing something here?
Kyrie Irving is the great unknown, which appeals to a lot of people. But he has played only a couple of games of college basketball. If he was crazy athletic or a Magic Johnson clone, I’d say go for it. But he isn’t. Kemba has his faults, sure, but he can fill up a stat sheet and is the most explosive guard to have come out of college basketball since Allen Iverson. Dan Gilbert, you want to rebuild the Cavs and get back at King James? Draft Kemba Walker and let the Timberwolves fulfill their destiny of pairing Ricky Rubio with Brevin Knight 2.0. Just be sure to hold a quiet vigil for Kevin Love while you do it.