Congratulations to Greg Oden, the former Ohio State star and 2007 #1 NBA Draft pick, who scored his first points in a regular season NBA game in four years tonight, coming off the bench for the Miami Heat.
It’s been a long, hard road for Oden, who broke the patella in his left knee in 2009 and after rehabbing, suffered a series of additional knee injuries that led to the Blazers releasing him in 2012. With Chris Andersen sidelined by sore knee, the Heat activated Oden Wednesday night, marking his first regular season NBA game in 1,502 days. His first basket? A dunk:
Oden finished with six points in eight minutes, which isn’t bad for a 124-year-old man. (Remember the ‘Greg Oden looks old’ jokes?)
Now, onto the news and views.
The difference a dunk makes
I hate the term “moral victory,” and I feel like after last season, we got really good at highlighting the good things in Kentucky’s losses in order to keep this place from having the atmosphere of a funeral parlor. Last night, as Michael Qualls threw down the dunk at the buzzer and closed the door on the Cats, oddly enough, I wasn’t really that upset. Arkansas won on a dunk at the buzzer. How angry can you get at that? Like Cal said, “I hate losing, but I’m fine. Those kids did not quit.”
Now, some serious flaws were exposed last night. I’m sorry, Cal, but I’m going to worry about free throw shooting. I can’t help it, they’re free, and sometimes our best shooters seem to be missing more than our big guys. Cal said that his players are hitting them in practice just fine, so if they need a crowd in the Joe Craft Center to simulate game situations, I know a few people around here that would be more than willing to help out.
Also, at times, this team still looks a little lost on offense, more often than not relying on second chance points. On his radio show Wednesday night, Cal said that the team is still holding on to the ball too long and there are too many “ball-stoppers.” Translation: score and pass quicker.
…a lot of good things happened last night. The Cats didn’t fold in a hostile environment, whereas last year they would have slunked out the door after the first half. In fact, they fought back and took Arkansas to overtime. It would have gone to double overtime if not for a freak dunk with 0.2 left. Had the Cats won in double OT, the mood around here would be very different, as Cal pointed out on his radio show: “It’s the first step that I’ve seen us fight, and it’s funny because if we had won in double OT, any issues we had, you wouldn’t think about.” Oh, logic…
The teamwork in the last ten minutes of regulation and overtime was excellent, showcasing the bonds the players formed over Camp Cal and the first weeks of SEC play. For one of the first times this season, the team actually looked like they were having fun out there, and seeing them celebrate Andrew’s three to take the game to overtime was awesome. I also liked how Julius Randle wouldn’t let James Young accept blame for the loss afterwards, telling reporters if “one person messes up, we’ve got to have each other’s back. That’s what we’ve got to get to.”
Another positive: no fear in clutch situations. It wasn’t Willie or Alex that hit the two biggest shots in the game; it was freshmen Andrew Harrison and James Young. Even though they’re young, this group is tough, and they’ll need that come March. Cal said that the only disappointing thing that happened in the game was the last play: “We fought and we didn’t stop playing, and we played with courage down the stretch and made plays to give us a chance to win.”
Should Alex Poythress start?
Alex’s progress has been so great that Calipari dropped another hint Wednesday night that he may find his way in the starting lineup, an interesting topic of debate. On one hand, there’s no denying Poythress has been playing great, but who do you start him over? Randle? Think of the points and rebounds you’d lose. Willie? Where do you get your interior defense? James Young? Young showed us how much we need his offense Tuesday night. Also, Alex has finally settled in to his sixth man role. Is it wise to shake that up so soon?
Where do we go from here?
Looking ahead, the Cats don’t have much room for error if they want a good seed in the tournament. I don’t see them losing at home, except to maybe Florida, who will likely beat them in Gainesville. Missouri and LSU on the road are tricky games as well. For the Cats to get a three seed, they can’t lose any games outside those. Once again, Cal likened this team to his 2011 squad, which lost several close games in the SEC but made it to the Final Four. Losing sucks, but if it teaches this team some adversity that will help them in the postseason, that’s fine by me.
Karl Towns is no longer a child
Towns posted this on Instagram last night, proof that he is no longer just a manchild. He’s a man.
On that note, it’s not hard to let your mind drift to next year’s team already. While there are some players that will certainly go pro (Julius, Willie, James Young), there are more that we’ve heard may return, like Alex, Dakari, and Marcus Lee. With the Harrison twins’ draft stock dropping (Draft Express doesn’t even list them in the 2014 draft), they’re still a toss-up, and on Wednesday, ESPN Insider Chad Ford encouraged them to return to school for a second season. Add in Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis with a year under their belts and the incoming freshmen and that’s a team with a true mix of experience and talent.
Random link of the night
If you haven’t seen them yet, go check out these NFL team’s logos reimagined as hipsters. As someone whose neighborhood is overrun with hipsters, I say it’s funny because it’s true.
See you in the morning.