Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why I'm Rooting for the Cavs

Let's face it, the Sixers aren't going to contend for a title anytime soon, especially this year, so there has to be some team to root for once the Sixers' season comes to a merciful end.

Earlier, I discussed my belief that the Cavs will win it all after acquiring Antawn Jamison via trade. Whether or not they do, I'll be rooting for them. Not so much because I want to see LeBron get his, but more because Cleveland employs four of my favorite college basketball players ever. I'd really love to see these guys hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy with King James.

Antawn Jamison

Antawn wasn't just on one of my favorite college basketball teams of all time, he was its best player … and the best player in the country, winning the Naismith as the National Player of the Year. The 1997-98 Tar Heels were the single most visually appealing college basketball team I can remember watching. Vince Carter throwing down insane dunks. Ed Cota running the show. Brendan Haywood banging inside. Shammond Williams creating offense. Ademola Oklaja D-ing it up. Makhtar Ndiaye hitting the glass. And Jamison was the one who made it all go.

He had, without question, the quickest release I've ever witnessed in college basketball. When he got the ball down low, there wasn't anything anyone could do about it. Before the pass was even in his hands for a full second, it was up on the rim and most of the time in. It was impossible to block, because there wasn't a defender alive who could jump quick enough to get to it. The ball was out of his hands before the defender even knew he had it in the first place.

As Arkansas Fred told me today, "I still love Antawn the most."

I'd love to see him do what he couldn't do in college, win the whole damn thing. Now he has his best chance.

Delonte West

No matter what crazy things Delonte does, he will always hold a place in my heart as part of one of the greatest backcourts in college basketball history. And it happened at St. Joe's of all places, a small Philadelphia school not exactly known as a national power. That is, until Delonte traveled up 95 from Baltimore to team up with Chester product Jameer Nelson.

We all know about that team, what it accomplished with an undefeated regular season, No. 1 ranking, No. 1 seed with the National Player of the Year (Jameer), and ultimately the early demise. It was tough to take. But watching West's calm demeanor on the court and supreme confidence radiating from him and Nelson made the rise to prominence seem almost unsurprising. The guy was a quiet assassin, not playing Robin to Nelson's Batman, but playing Superman to Jameer's Batman or vice versa:

About the only thing that makes Jameer Nelson and Delonte West squirm, at this moment, is which moniker to use to refer to their magical on-court pairing. Dynamic Duo? Mantle and Maris? Batman and Robin is a bit ... problematic. "Me and Jameer have a joke about it," West laughs. "OK, if we're going to be Batman and Robin, then who is going to sit in the little cart beside the motorcycle? And I said, 'I ain't!' When the media says it's the Jameer Nelson and Delonte West show at Saint Joseph's, they have it all wrong: It takes five to make two. You can say it's Batman and Robin. Tango and Cash." West takes a long, theatrical pause, "How about ... Jordan and Pippen?" And cracks himself up.

"I think we both have to get a big car," Nelson laughs. "It's a Batman and Superman thing. We're both equals here," adds Nelson.

I ask Martelli what he thinks, and I get an answer that sounds like a Rick Majerus metaphor: "They're like a soft pretzel with mustard. But people wouldn't understand what a Philly soft pretzel is. So they're a Philly Cheesesteak with onions. That's what they are. And the bun has got to be toasted."

Now Delonte has a chance to do what he and Jameer, and Jamison for that matter, couldn't in college. Get to the summit and be the last one standing. With LeBron leading the way and Delonte still playing a quiet assassin role, the outlook is bright.

Jawad Williams

Unlike Jamison and West, Jawad knows what it feels like to be on top. He reached the promised land in 2005 as the senior leader on the North Carolina team that gave Roy Williams his first national championship.

Jawad Williams wasn't the best player on that team. Or the second best. Or even third best. But he was the glue that held the whole thing together. With a talented trio of juniors getting all the (deserved) attention — Sean May, Rashad McCants and Raymond Felton — and a supremely gifted freshman (Marvin Williams) getting a lot of shine, it was Jawad who was the leader. When the Tar Heels needed a big bucket, Williams would be there for them. When they needed a key rebound, Jawad would grab it. When they needed a momentum-changing or exclamation-point capping dunk, Williams was there to provide it. He hustled. He dove on the floor. He led by example, showing the immature guys how to handle themselves. Taking a cue from Jawad, McCants became less moody, May became more determined and Felton, well, he just kept on doing what he had been doing all along.

Certainly, the change from the terrifyingly awful coaching of Matt Doherty to Roy Williams was no doubt the catalyst to the title, but it would have never happened without Jawad. Take him off that squad, and they may not have even made it to the Final Four, let alone been able to handle an Illinois team led by Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head and James Augustine. He may not get a ton of run for the Cavs, but he's certainly a guy that can help you when called upon.

Danny Green

As I've stated multiple times before, Danny Green was my favorite player the past four years at North Carolina. He was another one of those do-it-all guys, with his signature plays being the three, the dunk and the block. He was the ultimate momentum-swinging moment guy, doing it with a deep three, a big dunk or an awesome block.

With UNC's struggles this season, many announcers reference the fact that the Tar Heels lost so much talent, namely Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington. Rarely do they mention Danny Green. Every time they do this, forgetting about Green, it drives me nuts, because without Danny Green, the Tar Heels don't win that national championship last season. No, they wouldn't have won it if they lost any of those other guys either, and all three were definitely better than Green — Lawson was the best, Hansbrough next, Ellington third and then Green — but he was the guy that always seemed to do whatever Roy Williams needed him to do. Sacrifice shots and defend? Check. Score? Check. Attack the glass? Check. He was the ultimate team guy, and he was definitely my favorite player on that squad.

In Cleveland, he's buried on the bench. But he's definitely a guy that will contribute in the NBA down the line.

And just for the hell of it, here's a video about Vince, Stack, Sheed and Antawn at UNC:

BallHype: hype it up!

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