Seeing players as students



I know (at least) five UK underclassmen who will be much richer and much more successful than I will ever be, starting now: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb.

They are all younger than me.

This is the way it works when you’re a college basketball star and I’m a guy who covers college basketball stars.

This is why Anthony Davis is planning on buying a white-on-white Bentley this summer, and I’m wondering whether it’s about time to upgrade my Honda Accord from a car that can only play CDs to a car that can play iPods. (The only thing I need to make an answer is to look at a calendar that has the current year on it.)

This is why Lamb gets interrupted during meals around town and why I could sit down in the middle of Willy T. with a pizza and receive only stares of confusion, not recognition.

And I’m fine with all this. I’m not the one having to sign a pregnant lady’s belly.

But the dichotomy between how those 18- and 19-year-olds are living their life and how I’m living my 21-year-old life struck me repeatedly throughout this season. I often found myself wondering, as I sat with a voice recorder pointed in the general direction of one of these players after a game (almost always after a win), what it would be like to be on the other side of that recorder. Would I grow accustomed to the attention and approach it nonchalantly? Would I embrace it and be the media’s best friend? Would I be incredibly awkward and give incomprehensible answers?

Probably this.

And on a more serious note: would I care about school if I had the near-certainty of millions sitting months away from me? This is the far more interesting question for me, considering how much media attention the whole “one-and-done” culture — especially at UK — has created.

I’d like to think I would find motivation for schoolwork, even if I was projected to go in the lottery. I always have cared about academics.

I’ve also never been able to posterize anybody, either, and maybe that difference might make all the difference.

So yes, those five people and I (and you) lived vastly different lives, an existence that I can only know from an outsider’s perspective.

But some of the more rewarding moments came during times when I saw a common ground between us.

Most of these came outside the confines of a basketball court — as previously stated, I have no business trying to relate to them in that aspect, seeing as how I was cut from my middle-school team and failed to make a Jordan-esque career turnaround — and instead came in the college-kid realm.

Teague dancing lightheartedly for a White Boy Academy video. Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist professing their roomie love for one another after winning the national championship. Jones and Lamb posting a camera phone mirror picture on social media.

Those are the moments when I connect these players more to a campus than an NBA arena, and those are the moments that only amplify my respect for how they conducted themselves through a season of incessant attention and adulation.

And then those moments pass, and they morph back into basketball players ready to make the jump into a professional league and become much richer and much more successful than I ever will be. And I don’t resent them for that one bit.