Wednesday, January 21, 2004

In Other News

After two days of hand-wringing over the Eagles' ass-kicking, the papers wake up today and realize that, yes, Virginia, there are other sports to write about.

In the Inquirer, Ashley McGeachy Fox offers "a look at 10 things you might have missed while cheering -- and jeering -- the Eagles." There are some deserved jabs at the sorry state of the Flyers and Sixers, but her uniformly positive Item No. 1 is something near and dear to my heart:

Hoops, Part I.There's a terrific guard in town. He's shorter than his listed height of 6 feet. He leads his team in scoring and, get this, is unselfish, self-deprecating and able to hit a game-winning jumper.

You guessed it. His initials are not A.I. He is J.N., Jameer Nelson, the leader of St. Joseph's 15-0 team that this week climbed to the No. 3 ranking nationwide.

On Saturday against Xavier, Nelson was unfazed playing in front of representatives from 17 NBA teams, including Larry Bird. A front-runner for the Wooden Award, given annually to the nation's best collegiate player, Nelson is averaging 20.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.

Perhaps best of all, Nelson contemplated entering the NBA draft last June. But when it became unclear whether he would be a first-round pick, he thought better of it.

And just think. He shoots nearly 50 percent from the field.

The Daily News puts Nelson and his backcourt mate, Delonte West, on its front (!) cover. The accompanying story by the paper's Hawks beat writer, Dick Jerardi, lavishes even more praise on Nelson and the rest of the team than Fox does and concludes:

If this were a decade ago, this St. Joe's team, as good as it is and as fun to watch as it is, would not be a national factor.

Almost all the great players were still in college then. The last great college team was Kentucky's 1996 national champion. The days of really great college teams are over.

Almost every big man with any potential either never goes to college or is gone quickly.

Obviously, St. Joe's, with its lack of facilities, is not going to attract All-America big men.

With so few quality big men at the major powers, schools like St. Joe's, with a transcendent point guard like Nelson, a great off guard in West, terrific coaching and an unusual style, really can make a national impact.

It might be a once-in-a-generation impact, but it is there, nevertheless. My suggestion to everybody, even the knockers, but especially the purists, would be to just to sit back and enjoy it.

Amen to that.

By the way, fellow Saint Joseph's alumnus Boats Against the Current beat Fox and Jerardi to the punch yesterday.


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