July 7, 2008

What are we waiting for?

This week I planned on writing about the finalized ’08-’09 UA BasketCat roster since I assumed the Brandon Jennings situation would be resolved. It’s not, but there’s no sense waiting, because it doesn’t matter.

Arizona Basketball suffers either way.

It’s easy to see how UA hoops takes a big hit if Jennings doesn’t qualify and/or bolts for a non-NBA pro league. From a talent standpoint, the 2009 Wildcats would be significantly worse without the McDonald’s All-American. We just don’t have extra studs lying around.

Instead of four high-level players we would only have three. Instead of two known entities at the guard spots we would only have one. A thin team would get thinner as would the margin for error in trying to secure a 25th-consecutive NCAA tournament bid. You just don’t lose the best high school player in the country and not end up worse because of it.

Especially this late in the game. The 2008 recruiting class closed up shop months ago. There is no Plan B. You either get an elite player or you get a big hole in a roster that already looks like it’s been used for target practice.

However, talent isn’t the only issue here. The issue is Jennings’ issues. He has so much baggage he’s got to hire someone to carry it for him. Seriously. The kid already has a “lawyer” and “advisors.” That doesn’t make you uneasy? The minute he sets foot on a college campus he takes over O.J. Mayo’s title as America’s Most Professional Amateur.

If Jennings dons the cardinal and navy the spotlight will be on him the entire year. All season long the talk would be about The Guy Who Almost Bucked The System. He would be the worst one-and-done case possible. Zero chance of coming back for his sophomore year. Negative chance of even finishing his second semester. An APR bomb with the fuse already lit and burning.

And what would his teammates think? This isn’t a video game where you just trade for a player, plug him in and watch your team improve. Bad chemistry has sabotaged many a real-life sports squad. After this soap opera are you going to be fired up to play with a guy who doesn’t seem to give €2 about you or your team’s future?

It was one thing when he was just another all-star-of-all-stars high school player who “maybe” or even “probably” was going pro after one year. It wouldn’t have been that bad if he had typical qualification issues. But then more time passed, and more interviews were done, and you went from quotes like this…

(Jennings) "I still want to go to Arizona but if things don't go right, I'm considering going overseas."

…to this…

(Jennings’ mom) "We're not bluffing about playing in Europe and even if Brandon gets the SAT score doesn't mean he's going to college."

…to this…

(Jennings’ lawyer) "The kid, really, just wants to play basketball and make money.”

Is this the kind of kid you want as the face of your program for six months? Do you want Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill having to take a back seat to this guy?

You feel dirty either way. Yes, you want as many talented players as possible. Yes, you want the University of Arizona to win as many games as possible. But you want to do it the right way. You want to win with integrity.

I’m torn. Right now I just want the official verdict handed down so we can all move forward. Perhaps the real question is why it’s taking so long to grade a standardized test. Is it that hard to score a Scantron? Did Jennings not use a #2 pencil?

If you put a pitchfork to my head and made me decide right this instant…. I’d take him. I really want Lute to have one last special season so we can all feel good about moving on to the next era, and gambling with a hoops mercenary like Jennings is probably the best way to do that.

But I wouldn’t be comfortable with it. I would feel cheap and saddened that we even have to consider players like this. So I certainly can’t begrudge those of you who want to play it safe and send the kid packing for Uzbekistan. Believe me, I understand the mindset that character matters and we should get behind the guys who clearly want to be college students and play in Tucson this winter. And if that’s what ends up happening, I’ll be right there with you.

After a shower of course.

[I am going to be taking some time off to recharge for the next year. I’ll be back to get everyone giddy for football.]

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