Just when it looked like college sports was headed toward its bleakest year in recent history, the NCAA tournament came to the rescue with a Cinderella story for the ages.
It was a story ripped straight out of the reels of “Hoosiers” as Anthony Davis and Kentucky proved any scrappy underdog could win a championship as long as it has heart, desire and five future NBA players in the starting lineup.
Sarcastic indictment of John Callipari’s perfectly legal, if vaguely unethical, philosophy of building teams around one-and-done “student athlete” aside, the Wildcat’s accomplishment was admittedly impressive, even in the era of colleges serving as the NBA’s salary-free farm system.
Kentucky simply stomped everybody it played. Lead by 6-foot-10-inch wunderkind Davis and a crew of mostly underclassmen — the starting lineup didn’t feature anyone older than a sophomore — the Wildcats took all the excitement out of a season that initially seemed wide open.
Normally, athletic domination gets tedious — but it doesn’t typically involve Davis. A formerly “short” high school shooting guard whose pituitary glands went nuts late in his prep career, Davis moves like he doesn’t realize he’s nearly 7-feet tall, patrolling the paint in a dazzling display of agility and swatted shots.
As a true freshman, he won the Naismith Award for best national player, the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament, and was named a first team All-American by multiple publications. Someone who is the same age as the confused kids meandering around campus in lanyards was the best player in all of college basketball, and it wasn’t even close.
If Davis stayed for another year, he could start a bona fide dynasty a la Kareem Abdul-Jabar at UCLA. Of course, that sound you just heard was his agent cackling like a hyena because the only place Davis is going is to a terrible NBA team salivating to anoint him their savior.
Davis is the definition of a freshman phenomenon — a one-year wonder who made a brief shining pit stop in the collegiate ranks before taking his talents to the bigger stage. In that time, though, he left college basketball fans with memories of his mesmerizing skill and unselfish play, permanently endearing himself to millions of Americans.
But not me. I hate Davis.
It’s nothing personal. He seems like an affable, sufficiently modest guy who deserves his unbelievable success. Hate is probably too strong a word, as well — it’s probably more of a jealous bitterness.
Why irrationally hold it against a kid for having sharp defensive instincts and being the size of a baby giraffe?
Something about watching a freshman eviscerate the competition en route to fame and fortune in the NBA awoke my graduation anxiety and now it’s running full-steam like a sprinter hitting his stride. All my dormant feelings of inadequacy have sprung to life, doing a conga line of dread through my mind during all waking hours.
I’m well aware of the inherent silliness of comparing anybody to a once-in-a-generation athlete, but it’s hard to resist that basic human temptation, especially when you’re peering ahead at an uncertain, jobless future.