January 16, 2008

To this day, my former roommate Mike still jokes about the halcyon era of Penn State basketball with a particular seven-footer playing center. The initial decision, he insists, to recruit this guy came after a heated exchange between coaches that, he imagined, went something like this:

COACH No. 1: "Hey, this guy here is seven-feet tall. What can he do?"

COACH No. 2: "Well ... um ... he's seven-feet tall..."

And that was that. The baller earned a scholarship, journeyed cross-country and brought with him the prospect of a dominant low post game for the Nittany Lions. But things didn't quite go according to plan. Despite having a strong work ethic and being an altogether upstanding human being, his career proved somewhat forgettable and ended with an average of roughly 10 points per SEASON over four years of play.

Who am I talking about? Saying his name would only defeat my purpose.

I mention this story because at least two dozen people sent me the video clip of North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough dunking on 7-7 Kenny George from UNC-Asheville. Relatives. Co-workers. People I didn't even know. And with around half a million views in the span of one short week, this video has unquestionably gone completely viral. In a sports context, this thing is the new dancing baby. It's the new Lonelygirl15. It's the new 2 Girls 1 Cup.

But why? Watch the video a few times and you'll find some obvious flaws: Hansbrough commits an obvious travel, the dunk doesn't come at any critical point in the game and George appears to have the mobility of a statue. Why even care?

Easy. Because Kenny George is really freakin' tall.

When it comes to basketball, it seems we have an odd obsession with the proverbial big man. C'mon, you know what I mean ... he doesn't even need talent or a catchy name -- he just needs to be big. Noticeably big. Bigger than everyone else around him. That's usually all he needs to justify his spot. More often than not, this is the case as elite players like Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, and (maybe one day) Greg Oden show up only once in a blue moon. But there's no shortage of other stiffs out there -- guys who just take up space -- and there's apparently no dearth of coaches willing to recruit them.

Success matters not, though. There's a reason why the first thing anyone mentions about a seven-footer is his height and not his skill. It's the same reason why the big man always finds gainful employment at the next level of competition. It's the same reason why a company like Fathead is still in business. For all we know, George could be the next Wilt Chamberlain or Gheorghe Muresan. However, the fact that he's tall enough to be either is what the public finds most fascinating.

No, bigger might not be better, but it's certainly more interesting.

Look, it's not my goal to beat a dead horse, but we really need to take another look at Saint Louis' 29-point loss to George Washington. Why? The lopsided margin of victory wasn't even the main story. Not with the Billikens only scoring 20 points in 40 regulation minutes.

(That's half a point per minute for all you math majors.)

Here's the thing ... while it's obvious that Saint Louis wasn't on its game -- after all, it will go down as the worst in the shot clock era -- you'd be hard-pressed to find another instance in the sports world of such striking futility. I mean, you can't say they choked -- that would at least require some kind of clutch situation. Heck, you can't even say they threw the game. Even points-shaving requires some effort to keep things believable. To my knowledge, there is no existing sports equivalent for a showing this poor.

As news spread that 2K Sports had broken off licensing negotiations with the Collegiate Licensing Company, the group that handles NCAA licensing, one thought came to mind: Thank God. Reports are suggesting that a College Hoops 2K9 game will not be released later this year as planned, and guess what ... that's fantastic! Honestly, I don't think I'd flinch if game makers stopped making college basketball games altogether.

You know, despite all the cutting-edge innovations in video gaming over the last 15 years -- online game play, futuristic graphics engines, and consoles that can launch rockets -- I have yet to play ONE college basketball game from ANY gaming company that didn't freeze up or frustrate me after a few hours. I've heard the same displeasure from others, so what's the point? Can't someone just make another version of NBA Jam instead?

(And for the record, there was no better tandem in the NBA Jam series than the Charlotte Hornets' Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. It's not even close. I'd rank them first in front of Scottie Pippen/Horace Grant and Detlef Schrempf/Shawn Kemp any day of the week.)

Kentucky's double-overtime victory over previously unbeaten Vanderbilt was sweet. Gus Johnson was sweeter. End of story.

You're bound to hear this many times before the NCAA Tournament, but I believe that Johnson should announce every televised event from needlepoint to the NFL. I'm serious. Everybody would be cool with that, right? After the job he did on Saturday, I'd pay to hear him read the phone book. The man just knows how to make a game exciting -- and in the instances where games actually ARE nail-biters, well, get your popcorn ready.

As expected, Saturday's performance was rock-solid from Johnson, but let's give credit where it's due and honor him with this week's Weekly Hoops Hyperbole Award. Though Gus pulled out all his old tricks that we've grown to love --the screaming into the microphone and dramatic voice inflections -- he added a legendary new wrinkle to his arsenal by yelling "OH YEAH," Kool-Aid Man-style, into the microphone after Kentucky knotted the game late in the second half. Literally, I spit out my juice upon hearing this. You would've sworn Gus just blasted through a wall in your living room.

1. Better "Love"?Kevin Love / For Love of the Game

2. Better 80s game?Connect Four / Jenga

3. Bolder coaching sport coat? Sydney Lowe (red coat) / Bruce Pearl (orange coat)

4. Hotter cheerleaders? Purdue / Indiana

5. Better athlete? Super Mario / Sonic the Hedgehog

6. Bigger Final Four sleeper? Marquette / Tennessee

7. Better beer choice?Milwaukee's Best Light / Natural Light

8. Bigger pet peeve?Athletes who style their hair before games / Possession Arrow

9. Better "American Idol"? Taylor Hicks / Ruben Studdard

10. Zanier name?Longar Longar (Oklahoma) / Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (UCLA)

From the New York Times comes an ambitious tale of two seniors titled "Corpse Wheeled to Check-Cashing Store Leads to 2 Arrests." Let's put this in simpler terms: a couple of guys enjoyed Weekend at Bernie's so much, they decided to try it! Ladies and gentlemen, meet the only two people in America with more guts than Les Miles.

The real question: Which wacky movie plot would you try to execute if you were looking to commit a felony? My answer: Anything but Weekend at Bernie's ...

All kidding aside, please join me in welcoming Dick Vitale back to the announcing circuit. Cleared to talk for the first time in weeks, Vitale is shooting for a return to the announcing booth in time for the Duke-North Carolina game on Feb. 6. Say what you want about Dickie V, but the man is a true ambassador for the game and an all-around classy guy. It hasn't been the same without him.

Ty Hildenbrandt writes Campus Quick Slants every Wednesday. E-mail him at tyhildenbrandt@gmail.com with your comments, questions and random observations.

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