SUMMER RUMINATIONS (PART II)
Short on surefire stars, bereft of franchise saviors,
but home to arguably the most incredible story of the
past 25 years.
The 2006 NBA draft had something for everyone: from
rapid-fire trades to lottery bluffs; from mystery
international players to 4-year college stars.
However, June 28th, 2006 should be forever remembered
as the day a young man named Renaldo Balkman defied
the odds, turning a gamble on himself into a stunning
There is really no way to put this story in
perspective. Sure, there have been college role
players who crash-landed into the NBA draft, even the
first round (remember Donnell Harvey? Paul Grant?).
There have been draft-camp stars, first round reaches,
and underclassmen who beat the odds. Still, the unique
case of Balkman is so unusual, so unlike the others,
it may well become legendary down the road.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Renaldo Balkman
played three nondescript seasons at the University of
South Carolina. He never played in the NCAA
tournament, was not an all-SEC first teamer, and holds
career averages of 7.4 points a game and 5.3 rebounds.
In 38 games as a junior, Balkman started 22 times, was
held scoreless four times, and made 4 of 13 three
pointers as a small forward.
started gaining attention by being named NIT MVP,
decided to test the NBA waters as an underclassman,
then became the breakout star of the pre-draft
workouts and camps. From a non-factor, Balkman climbed
up the prospect rankings, and by the start of the week
was considered a solid second round candidate.
the story went from somewhat interesting to magical at
approximately 10 PM est on June 28, when the New York
Knicks made Balkman the 20th pick of the NBA draft.
The scrappy, position-less underdog from Tampa, Fla.
wagered the rest of his NCAA eligibility on an
unwavering belief in himself. Say all you want about
the Knicks and their decision - the real story here is
Balkman. It is unfortunate that in the draft
aftermath, the national media seemed obsessed with
cracking jokes at his expense, questioning the Knicks
for drafting him, and completely missing the point of
what just happened here.
age where so many basketball players are anointed
stars at an early age, grow up immature and spoiled,
and play out their pro careers with disinterest and a
general malaise, here is the total antithesis of the
a kid who turned himself from a college role player
into a pro, a likely millionaire, and an NBA first
round pick, in the course of a few months. He did it
not with hype, but with unrelenting, infectious effort
that had all the cynics at the pre-draft workouts
singing his praises.
may be out of the NBA in 3 years. So what? Plenty of
college stars make only cameos in The League. If
Balkman and his support team make sound financial
decisions, his first contract (guaranteed for first-rounders)
should go a long way towards financial security for
him and his family. Having come this far on his own
terms, it will be fascinating to see how Balkman does
in summer league and as a highly scrutinized rookie.
thing we already know - Balkman has made The Garden
his personal playground before; who is anyone to bet
against him to do it again?
With no college or pro basketball for the next few
months, it is traditional this time of year to look
into the crystal ball and make all sorts of
predictions for next season, predictions that
hopefully will be long-forgetten by November 2006.
Instead, here are 5 observations about the season that
was and the season forthcoming:
1) GATORS: The more you look back at the past
season, the more it is clear that Florida was really,
really good. Not just for this year - for any year. If
you think 2005's UNC team would be a lock to win the
title had all the underclassmen stayed, think again.
The Gators suffered their six losses by 4, 6, 4, 4, 4,
and 5 points, while last season's Tar Heels had four
losses by 11, 13, 1, and 3 points. Each team would
have a roster full of pro prospects. This would have
been a championship game for the ages.
2) DIAPER DANDY: Greg Oden's wrist injury, if
it heals fully, may be a blessing in disguise The
pressure about to hit the Buckeye basketball program -
likely in the middle of a run at a college football
championship - would have been immense Anything less
than an undefeated season, with each win by 20+, would
have been considered a monumental failure. All kidding
aside, even with Odon's status in the air, Ohio State
basketball is headed for a wild ride that may not turn
out the way their fans expect. Here's hoping they take
it easy on a bunch of 18 year old kids who never
promised they would be better than the 1996 Chicago
3) MID-MAJOR: The MAC is in serious, serious
need of some big non-conference wins. What once was
the premier league for mid-majors has now taken a back
seat to the Colonial, the Missouri Valley, the West
Coast, and even the Patriot League.
4) DEMON DEACONS: It's hard to imagine Wake
Forest being worse next season, but the Demon Deacons
are losing 5 of their top 6 scorers. Help is on the
way through recruiting, but it's not of the Tim
Duncan/Chris Paul variety. This is a program that
briefly ranked #1 in 2004-05. The ACC figures to be
much better next season... The program is in serious
need of a talent influx, before it is eclipsed by the
likes of Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Virginia,
something that seemed impossible just two years ago.
5) DRAFT PUZZLE: The inevitable parade of
underclassmen declaring for the NBA draft has come and
gone, along with the cries of "he should have stayed
in school" and "he wasn't ready". Draft night is
history, but the point bears repeating: there has
never been, nor will there ever be, a foolproof method
for NBA stardom.
are 4-year college studs who become NBA stars (Tim
Duncan, Steve Nash), and there are ones who don't
(Shane Battier, Ed O'Bannon). There are underclassmen
who make dubious draft decisions, yet still find their
way to long and lucrative NBA careers (Troy Hudson,
Mark Blount). There are guys who stick around an extra
year, and lose their tournament hype (Corliss
Williamson, Jalen Rose).
often lamented that the best underclassmen leave the
college game too soon, denying their fans
championships and Final 4's. Understand that this is a
myth - Tim Duncan, Keith Van Horn, Shaquille O'Neal,
and Alonzo Mourning combined to play 15 years of
college ball, without any Final Fours to speak of.
Charles Smith did not take Pittsburgh to the Final 4
in four seasons, Wayman Tisdale didn't do it at
Oklahoma in his three, and Jon Koncak certainly didn't
do it at SMU.
we love to dream about the teams that might have been.
The 2006 Tar Heels with May, McCants, Williams, and
Felton. Duke with Luol Deng, Georgia Tech with Chris
Bosh and Jarret Jack. The reality is, no matter how
loaded a roster, only five players can be on the court
at once. The last time a championship team returned a
full roster and infused a bevy of big-time recruits
year, the team in question, North Carolina, nearly
lost to 16-seed Liberty, before being felled by Boston
College in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
When an underclassman leaves a program, he is only
taking away the daydreams of boosters and alumni, not
the reality of an unpredictable season with ups,
downs, and only one winner.
Ehud Knoll is a sfaff writer for collegeinsider.com.