Whenever a young, insanely hyped John Calipari coached team falters, the narratives begin. It isn’t an annual tradition, as the yarn can’t be weaved season-over-season, but when the Kentucky Wildcats misstep while exploiting the one-and-done rule, people have points to make.
Those points, they come with agendas.
Following a loss to South Carolina on Tuesday, ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg piggybacked off Calipari’s “unwarranted arrogance” comments to make one of his own.
“This is part of the process if you’re going to recruit these one-and-done guys,” Greenberg said. “These guys have been recruited since they’re 13 years old. They’ve been enabled since they’re 13 years old.”
Fanbuzz reached out to Greenberg for clarification before a counterpoint column was published. He declined, but did expand his original thoughts with Kentucky Sports Radio on Thursday.
“They all think, ‘It’s not about Kentucky, it’s about how quick can I get to the league?’ It’s all about me, me, me. They don’t know how to play hard,” Greenberg added. “They can’t maintain an intensity. John Calipari coaches his team really hard, but they’re more concerned about themselves than the good of the group.”
There’s a few different ways to look at the original message sent, but the underlining theme has a constant — the players are more accountable than the coach. Not exactly a shocking belief system for Greenberg to have, especially given his background as a head coach.
You see, “Calipari coaches his team really hard, but,” it’s those pesky college kids who aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.
On the surface, it isn’t an off-base comment. It might even be true. People, with or without evidence, have long believed plenty of one-and-done players aren’t participating in the sham that is NCAA sports for any other reason than to get to the pros. Something Greenberg directly touched on in the above quote.
When given a chance to clarify his statements by KSR, Greenberg decided to expand upon his original thought. While he backed off it being a Kentucky-specific issue, it then became about the culture of the modern college basketball landscape.
After saying good teams like Virginia, Villanova, and Purdue — not exactly one-and-done styled programs — should get more attention from fans and media, he explains his rationale behind that thought process.
“We need to appreciate some of these other teams because they’ve earned it,” he said. “They’re playing at a high level. Now they don’t have the sexiness of a Kentucky or a Duke or maybe a Kansas, but they’re good basketball teams that have won games and are playing good basketball and they’re further along, and they should be further along.”
We can argue about what teams fans and media should be paying attention to, but that’s pointless. He believes that because he sees beauty in programs built off a model of consistency. That said, how one comes to deem something worthy of their time, entertaining enough to be consistently consumable is subjective.
His latter sentiment, that veteran teams are further along in development is not exactly shocking. Nor should anyone disagree with it. Teams with experience are almost always going to play basketball as if, you know, they’ve been doing it longer.
Here’s where things begin to get dicey:
“I wasn’t singling out Kentucky. I was singling out the culture of our game. I was also singling out that there are other teams out there that deserved to be mentioned because they are playing at a high level. Plain and simple.”
Let’s remove all the unimportant parts of this discussion. From a larger standpoint, it doesn’t matter if he was or wasn’t needling Kentucky. It also doesn’t matter what other programs he believes deserve more attention. Because I think I deserve a date with Cristinia Ricci, it doesn’t mean she owes it to me to take me to Burger King or anything.
It does matter that Greenberg, with the large platform ESPN allows him to voice his opinions, believes there is a culture issue … and that culture problem is on the kids?
I can only surmise that’s the thought process, as the only examples given between the ESPN segment and the KSR hit were about kids failing to be about anything other than themselves.
This is happening during a time when other prominent media members are claiming the potential slightly less restrictive, yet still filled with stipulations, player-transfer rule would be one of the worst things to ever happen to the sport.
It is Sport > Labor/kids almost always for the people who value the NCAA’s fictional ideal of amateurism. It is disguised as a variety of other things, but if people are in the “restricting players’ power” camp, they usually fall in the same category of folk who hold the players to a higher degree of accountability than the adults overseeing them.
Obviously, Greenberg’s sentiment ignores the culture college basketball has crafted itself. The one in which we demand more accountability from teenagers than we do millionaire (or sometimes only, gasp, six-figure) adults. Or the culture that; either allowed or turned a blind eye toward shoe companies parachuting down on high school basketball, taking advantage of teenagers for the sake of money.
We can also talk about the culture that has designed restricted movement, people in power publicly attempting to keep the powerless from obtaining any, fans feeling entitled enough to tweet at recruits to demean them over personal decisions, with hell having no wrath like a player who somehow scorned a sport so many people love.
It is the painting of the sport as the victim, an old guard media’s favorite maneuver to avoid talking other amateur idealism pitfalls, rather than realizing the sport’s greatest assets, the players, might need slightly more leeway. The sort that avoids them being painted with such a broad brush that an entire discussion ends with young people being portrayed as selfish.
You don’t even need to be on the pay-for-play side of this discussion to see issue with hurling a blanket statement over an entire generation of basketball players. Simply because one values going to the NBA, it doesn’t inherently mean that person’s heart is not with its current university. There’s no direct correlation between NBA-level players and them not trying hard enough in college.
It is about a purposeful connecting of the dots. A person’s own belief system seeing what it wants to see. If someone sincerely thinks one-and-done is the worst, that person will see the talent who define that phrase as having faults where others see none.
It is almost like being shown an abstract picture, being told beforehand it was a bat, with your mind ultimately telling you that you see a bat… even if it is actually a picture of Marty Jannetty. Our mind, thanks to bias, sees what we want to see, not always what is actually there.
Even if not malicious, these are all tired tropes longtime college basketball analysts use to try to explain something they believe to be inexplicable. Instead of looking at data, or simply surmising young teams might take longer to gel, it is about “effort” and “lack of heart” and a bunch of other truly horrific qualifiers that can’t be objectively proven.
It is a cycle of nonsense that usually goes without rebuttal since one can’t fact-check an opinion. Heck, here’s another lazy narrative disproved in a single tweet:
By speaking it, it isn’t true, though if one says it long enough, the masses will believe it to be. In fact, it should be considered dangerous for any one person, especially with a sizable platform, to question another’s motivations and/or work ethic from afar, specifically when not sourced before doing so.
This speaks to a larger problem in how faux-journalism operates in a social media era, but it is one few outside the profession care to hear about. Just know, no matter how emphatic opinions are stated (even this one right here), it doesn’t make it a fact.
Greenberg would later go on to state he loves the Kentucky players, how Calipari is the best at getting the most out of his players, and finishes by questioning their toughness.
“I think they’re good kids but I don’t think they’re as competitive as they need to be and I don’t think they’re as tough as they need to be.”
We can think a lot of things about kids we don’t know. We can even speak our opinions on them. And yet, at any rate, all we are doing is moving what should be an on-the-floor discussion to somewhere else completely. One where we are starting the conversation riddled with bias and our bellies filled with agenda.
Are the Kentucky players all about themselves? I don’t know. Hell, they’re barely old enough to know themselves. I do know this conversation should be about basketball stuff and not what is happening around the hardwood.
Given the system of the NCAA, where its universities are all about its own entities, maybe the players ought to be outwardly about themselves. The “me, me, me” mentality Greenberg believes them to already have. Why not? People are going to say that about them whether there’s evidence in showing it to be true or not.
Don’t ignore what a Seth Greenberg has to say. He, and those like him, often have insight and offer valuable opinions in areas we can’t otherwise get. On the flip side, know his background can sometimes blind him from seeing the entire forest, as he’s too busy staring at one tree.
It is why we shouldn’t be questioning teenager’s abilities to think of others from a distance, while spewing the NCAA’s propaganda-like rhetoric, in which the blame — no matter the issue — falls at the feet of the kids we’re too often so quick to judge.