Saturday, February 14, 2009

Thabeet Goes On and On—Basketball's Got Somethin' Brewing

In the last couple of weeks, we've seen Kobe Bryant put 62 points on the New York Knickerbockers. In the process, he broke Michael Jordan's single-game scoring record for the sacred building, the famed Double Nickel. Word of mouth spread fast.

Word of cyberspace spread even faster.

Sensing a shot had been fired across his bow, LeBron James waltzed into the arena several nights later and did something even more impressive. King James chalked up the ever-so-rare, disappearing triple-double—52 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds.

And then it was nine rebounds. Whatever.

The point is that Kobe and LBJ used one of the most historic buildings in the National Basketball Association as their personal canvases. They did whatever, whenever because they wanted to (and the Knicks are not so good).

Jump ahead to yesterday.

If you haven't been paying attention to college basketball, now's a pretty good time to start. Not only has the calendar hit mid-February, which means March Madness is looming on the horizon, there is a junior varsity version of one-upmanship brewing in the college ranks.

Blake Griffin of the second-ranked Oklahoma Sooners terrorized the Texas Tech Red Raiders to the melody of 40 points, 23 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a block against five turnovers plus three fouls . On any other day, we would marvel at Griffin's magnificence.

Unfortunately for Blake, Saturday's round of the developing mano-a-mano for the right to be called college basketball's best player went to Hasheem Thabeet.

I promise you, this is not a typo. This was Thabeet's actual line: 25 points, 20 rebounds, nine blocked shots, and an assist against only a single turnover. The most amazing thing is the man-child blocked nine shots while registering one—ONE—foul.

If I'm a Seton Hall Pirate today, I'm thoroughly embarrassed. The dude blocked nine shots and you couldn't even scratch him for a second foul? Ooof.

Of course, if you've seen either Thabeet or Griffin, you can kinda understand how days like yesterday might happen.

Much like Kobe and LeBron in the NBA, catch either college player on the right night against the wrong team and you stand a good chance of seeing something special. Hasheem and Blake both have the propensity to look like men playing against children.

Not necessarily because of their size (although they both have a good bit of an advantage in that department), but more because of their athleticism and maturity (again, not necessarily physical). For whatever reason, both kids seem to have a firm grip on what they can do—a lot—and what they cannot do—not a ton.

A friend of mine once said that a man's got to know his limitations. Thabeet and Griffin apparently have a good idea of theirs—of course, it helps when the list isn't too long.

And, remember, this is college basketball.

We've already seen this happen at the next level. Guys like LeBron, Dwight Howard, Ama're Stoudemire, and even Dirk Nowitzki have proven that a new day is dawning in basketball. A day where the sun may eventually be eclipsed by behemoths who possess all the tools of the little water-striders.

Consider LBJ's handles, vision, and sheer athleticism from a 6'9", 250 pound body. Or Howard's leaping ability, dexterity, and coordination from a 6'11", 265 pound kid. Ditto for Ama're, who goes 6'10" and listed at 249.

And lest we forget Dirk's feathery touch and finesse from a seven-footer.

Even more ridiculous is that, arguably, only Dirk has peaked (he'll be 31 in June). Ama're will only be 27 in November. LBJ will be 25 and Howard will be 24 in December.

In case, you're wondering—Griffin will soon turn 20 and Thabeet hits 22 tomorrow.

So, with the possible exception of Nowitzki, the best days have yet to come for all of these guys barring the unforeseen. Even if we lose a couple to injury or the weight of expectations, we can be sure more of these genetic mutants—I mean that as a compliment—are in the pipeline.

I don't know who's making 'em and I don't know where they're coming from, but the future of basketball is theirs.

Charles Darwin would be proud.

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