All of us have those former SEC players that we hold dearly in our hearts. Maybe you were a bit of fatty chaser and had a thing for Da Meat Hook at Florida. Perhaps you liked the great names of years past and had a poster of Ansu Seasy on your wall. Or maybe you liked men with things growing on their face and were fond of Dwight Stewart. For me, I liked guys with energy and personality and thus I was always a fan of Renaldo Balkman. From the first time he checked in off the bench in Columbia and proceeded to jump fifty feet in the air, dunk a missed three pointer and stick his tongue out with glee, I knew that Balkman was for me. He was Mr. Energy and always seemed to give Kentucky fits, crashing the boards and getting that crucial put-back that would keep the Gamecocks in the ballgame late. Many years ago, I began (like the rest of the world) calling him “The Humpty Hump” and doing the Balkman dance at all SEC Tournament games. For me, Balkman was the man, the myth and the legend and I enjoyed watching him celebrate those back-to-back NIT titles.
One year at the SEC Tournament, I was fortunate enough to get to interview Humpty Hump after the game. At the SEC tournament, for the only time during the season, you can go in the locker rooms and talk to the whole team after a game. After South Carolina beat someone irrelevant on the first day (it had to be Auburn….these two teams are magnetically drawn to each other at the SEC), I went into the Carolina locker room to learn whether he really pronounced his name with an Umpty. I went up to Renaldo, moving past the three media members covering South Carolina, and asked him a couple of inane questions about Dave Odom, beating Auburn and his style of play. He made a couple of funny comments, gave me the old fist/handshake motion and we went our separate ways. As I walked out of the dressing room, a woman came up to me and said, “I loved the way you talked to my brother. Can I have your email address?” I said sure, and then proceeded to go back to my friends taunting Barry Booker.
After the SEC and NIT tournaments, I got an email from Balkman’s sister. The gist of the email essentially was, “thanks so much for all you have done for my brother. Now we need to know if you think he should leave early for the NBA Draft.” The email took me off guard because (a) the collective sum of things I had “done” for Balkman added up to talking to him once and (b) calling him a guy who likes his oatmeal lumpy. Add to that the fact that I have no expertise in the NBA Draft or whether a person should come out and I really didnt feel like I was qualified to give any advice whatsoever. But not being qualified to talk has never stopped me in the past and would not stop me here. I told his sister that Renaldo had a lot of energy and was the height necessary to make it. I then made up a bunch of stuff about “upside” and being “long” and basically ended by saying that if he was projected to be a first round pick, he should go….plain and simple. It was the Seth Davis of NBA Draft commentary, pointless, stating the obvious and full of nothing relevant.
Thinking this would end my Balkman affair, after realizing that Renaldo was going to declare for the draft, I watched the projections to see where Balkman would go. About a week before the draft, said sister emailed me again and said this, “I thank you so much for your advice. We used it and now it looks like Renaldo will be picked in the first round.” I was blown away by this email. First, Renaldo was going to be picked in the first round, which I found bizarre. But more importantly, here was his sister acting as if they had actually USED my advice to make the decision. I then began to get nervous. What if the Humpty Hump were not picked? Would his sister be mad? Would Columbia find out that I had said something and ruined their chance at an NIT Three-Peat? Now Renaldo’s draft status had a strong effect on my life and I was officially nervous.
Then comes draft day. As the first round goes along, with Isiah Thomas in charge, ready to ruin another basketball franchise’s fortunes, the Humpty Hump was picked late in the First Round by the Knicks. Spike Lee looked strangely confident but the rest of the Knick fans, the commentators and the Draft gurus kill Thomas for making the selection. He is called overrated and a huge potential bust and the world goes Balkman crazy. However in my neck of the woods, I celebrate. Burger King bathrooms in New York will never be the same and I am off the handle. I write the sister again congratulating her, and she responds talking about how happy they are.
Now did I really have any impact on whether Balkman went pro….almost certainly not. Surely someone around Renaldo made the decision and led the Balk Man to the higher ground he now occupies. But no matter what, it is clear that Balkman’s sister asked me my advice and at least told her brother what I said…..which is ridiculous. People wonder every day why individual players go to the draft and make such poor decisions. And I wondered that as well….but now I know. Players all over the country are talking to idiots like me, with no qualifications or insight into the process…..all of whom tell them to go get their money. They then cite Sammy Blog Writer or Johnny AAU Coach as a source, and then we have the Korleone Young and Joe Forte of the next generation. I pull for the Humpty Hump every time I see him, but I do hope to one day talk to him again, if only to tell him….I hope the NBA has brought you better advisors than you had before.