Walter Mencken 11 a.m., Nov. 27
March Madness begins today. Along with wall-to-wall college basketball games, it means a zillion charge-or-block-block-or-charge deliberations, a time-out followed 10 seconds later by a TV time out, which means four minutes of the same commercials ("what is better, kiddies, less or more?"), and bipolar viewing: brief action, long lull, action, lull.
Today's two burning questions: who will win the NCAA tournament, and should Jamaal Franklin turn pro?
The first's a cinch. Indiana, Duke, Kansas, and Gonzaga have balance, strength at each position. But each sides more toward finesse than down-home, in the paint banging, and thus is vulnerable. So if the refs don't blow the whistle on their customary mayhem, Louisville will bulldoze its way to the trophy. They hack more than a butcher shop.
Question #2's trickier. For the last two years Jamaal Franklin's been the heart and soul of Aztec basketball. But not the mind. His stats are stunning. He's made highlight-reel plays and never backed down from taunts or triple-teaming.
He's also whined to the refs so much that, by the end of the conference season, calls went against him - or weren't called when someone tried to clothesline him. The refs clearly got tired of his antics (and of Winston Shepard's, who emulates Franklin).
No team in college basketball works harder on D than the Aztecs (and few as hard, though Louisville's one). It's been a continual frustration to watch them labor mightily and then have Franklin try the impossible and prove it was just that.
Franklin has The Love. He radiates a joy for the game, and a Kawhi Leonard-like desire to improve.
But does he have the game for the next level, where he'll have to play guard, and where the three point line's almost three feet farther away? He's 6-5. A player that size better fling em from deep with alacrity of he wants to play for pay.
And not force passes or try to leap tall buildings with a single bound, since the buildings in the NBA are 7-foot flyswatters.
Some say Franklin will follow in Leonard's footsteps. Well sure, if...
What's the opposite of a perfect storm? Optimal conditions? Like Franklin, Leonard was an iffy first-rounder: some had him a lottery pick; others down a ways.
But Leonard enjoyed optimal conditions. San Antonio has one of the greatest systems in pro sports. An integral part was Bruce Bowen, a 6-7 lock-down defender who was retiring. Leonard, a 6-7 lock-own defender, fit the bill perfectly. He didn't have to score, just board and hustle. Now he's added offense (and is the first name I look for in the box scores).
The question for Franklin: is there a system in the NBA that will utilize and nurture his skills next year? If not, give Mr. Fisher a fourth season to complete your apprenticeship.
Image by Djh57, wikipedia.org
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