I was in Brooklyn last night for the debut of Shabazz Muhammad for UCLA (as well as an unexpectedly competitive game between No. 1 ranked Indiana and Georgia).
Speaking purely in terms of expectations, my heart goes out to any mega-star trying to make a splashy debut in the City That Doesn’t Sleep who’s not a point guard or a big guy in the post. Add in the fact that the other team (Georgetown, who by the way won the actual “game,” 78-70) is playing zone, and you can see the difficulties here: Muhammad could be said to have spent a good chunk of time “floating on the perimeter,” but that’s exactly what a player in his position should be doing when Kyle Anderson is setting up in the high post for feeds from Larry Drew.
So, sure, Muhammad was merely mortal on a night when the Hoyas’ Markel Starks, to take one example, was rather more feisty (23 points on 9-of-14 shooting along with four steals). But how important and/or unusual is it for a player projected to go at or very near the top of the draft to start his brief college career as merely mortal?
Kevin Durant vs. Alcorn State, Nov. 9, 2006
MIN FGM-A FTM-A REB AST PF PTS PPWS Durant 22 8-13 1-2 6 1 2 20 1.43
(PPWS stands for points per weighted shot. If you weren’t reading along in 2004, you missed out on a national sensation, truly, but don’t worry. It’s a measure of efficiency, the higher the number the better.)
Day after: “Durant is the highest-rated recruit to come to the 40 Acres, but for Texas’ two exhibition games he played second fiddle to teammates A.J. Abrams and Damion James. But in the first official game of the season, there was no mistaking whom the star of this year’s Longhorn squad will be.”
Derrick Rose vs. UT-Martin, Nov. 5, 2007
MIN FGM-A FTM-A REB AST PF PTS PPWS Rose 25 8-16 0-0 6 5 0 17 1.06
Day after: “Rose was 8-for-16 from the field and had four dunks, bringing the 16,555 fans at FedEx Forum to their feet cheering each time. He also had a block on a breakaway in the first half that sent Calipari out of his chair and invigorated the Tigers’ bench. But how does the freshman rate his first performance? ‘I’ll give it a C,’ Rose said. ‘I can do a lot better.'”
Michael Beasley vs. Sacramento State, Nov. 9, 2007
MIN FGM-A FTM-A REB AST PF PTS PPWS Beasley 31 12-20 7-11 24 4 3 32 1.27
Day after: “There was Michael Beasley with the ball in his hands, at the free-throw line Friday, when a Kansas State student screamed through the silence, ‘Take it easy on them, Beasley!’ Beasley glanced at the students, sneer on his face. ‘No, sir,’ he said.”
John Wall vs. Miami OH, Nov. 16, 2009
MIN FGM-A FTM-A REB AST PF PTS PPWS Wall 38 4-9 10-14 2 5 2 19 1.21
Day after: “Wall-elujah: Thanks to inside dominance and a clutch shot by John Wall, UK won 72-70. Wall, belatedly making his highly anticipated UK debut, hit a 12-footer from the left side inside the final second to win the game.”
Kyrie Irving vs. Princeton, Nov. 14, 2010
MIN FGM-A FTM-A REB AST PF PTS PPWS Irving 25 4-10 6-6 4 9 1 17 1.32
Day after: “On Tuesday night, with freshman point guard Kyrie Irving reeled to the bench early with foul trouble, Duke turned to its dominant depth and defensive intensity to steamroll Miami.”
Anthony Davis vs. Marist, Nov. 11, 2011
MIN FGM-A FTM-A REB AST PF PTS PPWS Davis 23 10-13 3-3 10 3 2 23 1.59
Day after: “Anthony Davis started swatting shots. Kentucky made steals, got out on the break, lobbed for dunks, and extended a comfortable lead to cruise control.”
Shabazz Muhammad vs. Georgetown, Nov. 19, 2012
MIN FGM-A FTM-A REB AST PF PTS PPWS Muhammad 25 5-10 3-4 1 2 2 15 1.26
Day after: “The college basketball world was buzzing about UCLA star freshman Shabazz Muhammad, who was making his collegiate debut. But unranked Georgetown put on a clinic instead, and put the kibosh on a much-anticipated Indiana-UCLA matchup in the championship game.”
BONUS Barclays Center review! The Garden will always be the Garden, but at least it now has some non-Newark-based competition. (Pound for pound the Prudential Center might actually be superior to the trendy newcomer in Brooklyn. But, again, Newark.) Barclays on the inside was correctly characterized by a colleague last night as “nondescript,” but it curtains half of its upper deck more discreetly than any venue I’ve seen, and the noise of a college crowd bounces and builds instead of dissipating into the vastness as on 33rd Street. I also like how the press entrance is close to but clearly and emphatically separate from the “VIP” entrance. We get it, Barclays, we get it….I arrived well after tipoff for Georgia-Indiana, and literally the first person I ran into in the hallway outside the press room was Dick Vitale. He was on tap for the nightcap, he’d just completed a long rush-hour journey involving planes and a driver, and I’d just completed a long rush-hour journey involving the rolling stock maintained by NJ Transit and the MTA. He was hungry, I was hungry, but he was characteristically gracious, pulling aside a preoccupied producer (redundant) and telling him, “This guy’s with Insider, I want you to meet John Gasaway.” I may not have seen Dickie V’s debut, but I can spot a mega-star.