Daily Archives: Feb. 20, 2013

Believe it, Tharpe is KU’s hero

I spent most ofthe night on Twitter lamenting the game being played by Kansas sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe. I questioned his shot selection, his passing, his defense, his hair, his sneakers.

But it was Tharpe who had the last laugh by making KU’s last shot in a 68-67, double-overtime win against Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

I’m in disbelief.

Tharpe was so bad in the second half that Kansas coach Bill Self chose not to have him in the game during the first overtime. But when Elijah Johnson fouled out toward the end of the first OT, Tharpe was back.

And he wasn’t good.

But when the Jayhawks needed someone to step up and make a shot – something no KU player had done in either overtime, believe it or not – Tharpe came through. His spin move inside the lane resulted in the go-ahead basket with about 10 seconds left and the Jayhawks’ defense, led by Travis Releford, made a last stand to preserve the win.

Incredible.

I still don’t know how the Jayhawks won, except that Oklahoma State was atrocious offensively. The Cowboys shot 33 percent and made just 4 of 21 three-pointers. Credit KU’s defense, the same D that allowed OSU 85 points during a loss in Lawrence earlier this month.

Releford was great, with 18 points, six rebounds and his typical tough defensive game against OSU’s Markell Brown, who had to work overtime in a coal mine to come up with his 20 points.

Center Jeff Withey was great, with 17 points (11 of them at the free-throw line), 14 rebounds and four blocks. How big of a bonus is it for Kansas that its 7-footer can shoot free throws the way Withey can? The Jayhawks don’t win if he’s a typical big-man clanker.

Kevin Young had a nice game and so did guard Elijah Johnson, who badly needed one.

Which brings me to redshirt freshman Ben McLemore, the most talented Jayhawk in years. McLemore, though, didn’t have it against Oklahoma State. I’m sure he wanted it. He took one ill-advised shot in the two overtimes, an air ball from the deep corner. He rarely touched the ball, even.

There are times, most times, when McLemore looks like an All-American. But he has a tendency to play quietly, even with a game that screams. And that confuses me. He’s the one KU player capable of taking over a game offensively, and he has shown he’s capable of doing that. Remember Iowa State? That’s the best example of what kind of wrecking ball McLemore can swing.

There was no destruction in his heart tonight, though.

Imagine McLemore with Tharpe’s conscience, or lack thereof.

I’ll give Tharpe this: He’s fearless.

As Tharpe wheeled and dealed on KU’s final possession, looking to create a shot, I imagined KU fans standing up, pulling their hair and screaming at him to pass the basketball. As he let the shot fly, I imagined a very different Lawrence than the one that will still stand today.

Tharpe had been 1 for 10 before taking that huge shot. Someplace, someone convinced Tharpe he was a tremendous shooter. And whoever that was should have a prominent place in American government because he/she is a power persuader.

But Tharpe’s shot was good. And it was one heck of a shot, too.

There was a doghouse being constructed somewhere in which he would have lived for the rest of his life had the shot missed. But it didn’t. It really didn’t.

Tharpe’s confidence in himself should be a lesson for every young person in America. Keep shooting, even when everyone tells you not to. Be confident in yourself, even when others aren’t. Take control, even as panic sets in amongst a fan base.

If you’ve watched Kansas play this season, you know Tharpe didn’t just roll out this incredible self-assured attitude tonight. He’s had it all season. And it has served him well in several games in which he has performed well.

But performing well isn’t a prerequisite to Sharp’s self-confidence, as was evidenced with his play tonight. He’s a believer, whether we are or not.

While we’re patting people on the back, let’s give one to KU coach Bill Self, who has stuck with Tharpe through thick and thin. It’s not really like he’s had a choice because of the thinness of the Jayhawks’ backcourt.

Tharpe rewarded him with a big-time, game-winning shot. Instead of being toast, Tharpe is the toast of Lawrence. KU fans might have to swallow hard, but they have to love the kid.

For now.

 

 

Memories of a sportswriter

When I tell people I don’tcare who wins the games I cover, they don’t believe me. I’m not sure I used to believe me, either.

Just Tuesday, during my live chat at Kansas.com, someone submitted a question that went something like this: “If Kansas and Wichita State ever played basketball, who would you be for?”

I didn’t have a chance to get to the question because I had just put a wrap on the chat. But my answer would have been something like this:

“I wouldn’t have a vested interest in who won such a game. I would hope it would be competitive and that it would produce good story lines, but I don’t remember the last time I covered a game in which I had an emotional investment in the outcome.”

That’s not just journalist speak, although as someone who went to college to study journalism, one of the things that has stuck with me throughout all of these years is the impartiality of the job. It’s the impartiality that confuses people. Let’s face it, fans are fans and they should be. They are not restricted in their support for a particular team or player. And more power to them.

I’m a fan, too, of the St. Louis Cardinals. I care about that team and whether it wins or loses. But I’m detached from the Cardinals in the sense that I don’t cover them or any other MLB team.

That said, I want to make sure and mention that, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, journalists are human beings. While I believe totally in our responsibility to be unbiased, fair and accurate, I also know it’s a concept that is difficult for those who aren’t journalists to understand.

And it’s not easy to detach. As a columnist, I have the advantage of being allowed to share my opinions with readers. But for years, I had to bottle up those opinions and present both sides of the story, which is the job of a journalist. Then it’s up to you to interpret.

As a kid, I was a big-time Wichita State Shocker fan. That was still true for several years after I started working at The Eagle. I wasn’t assigned to cover WSU games, so there was no conflict.

Over time, though, I began to lose my fan connection to the Shockers. It wasn’t like one day I woke up and was no longer a WSU fan. It was more methodical.

And it was necessary.

My wife, Debbie, is a fan, not a journalist. When we watch games together, she always picks a team to root for. When it’s one of the local teams – WSU, Kansas or Kansas State – she’s boisterous in her support. She’s lucky that way.

Any comments I might make while watching a game have to do with its particular technicalities or observations about how a team or player is performing. I never find myself “rooting” for a particular team, even one from Wichita or Kansas. My unbiased approach has become hard wired over the years. So much so that I can’t see it changing even after I retire.

I know it frustrates some of my friends, especially when I write something critical of the team they support. And I know that many readers don’t buy my assertion, believing that I’m a blanket fan of so-and-so.

Wichita State, Kansas and Kansas State fans are convinced I have it out for them. Of course I don’t, but I have found the arguments to defend myself to be a waste of time. People are going to think what they’re going to think.

Truth is, I have respect for all three athletic programs and many of the fine people who work for them. I applaud their successes with proper emotional detachment. And I do not revel in their failures.

I suppose losing my ability to be a fan of the Shockers is one of the prices I have had to pay to further a career doing something I love. But those years of being a WSU fan still pay off. Just last week. I got to publicly reminisce, both on radio and her on the blog, about the Harry Miller years from 1971-78, when I was a passionate Shocker fan.

There will always be something special to me about Wichita State’s basketball team because of my formative years that were spent living and dying with the Shockers. A monster of a WSU fan was constructed in Section R, Row 23 of the Roundhouse back in the day.

Only a career in journalism was able to strike him down.