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Josh Selby: Just another Baltimore story?

selbyblog.jpgFollowing his controversial decision to turn pro despite a mediocre freshman year at Kansas, the Kansas City Star dispatched a reporter to Baltimore with the mission of figuring out, once and for all, what this Josh Selby kid is all about.

The result is this sad, sweet little portrait of the boy using basketball to create a better life by J. Brady McCollough.  There's a danger in writing this sort of story because it is cliche. There have been documentaries about the subject, as well as fictionalized accounts of how basketball can change a kid's life. This very theme is at the heart of some of our finest writings about the game of basketball, from The Last Shot to Heaven is a Playground to The Miracle of St. Anthony. Basketball as savior is such a well-worn meme that, in a way, it has circumvented the original point: people are so accustomed to the stories that they don't even resonate, let alone force action. Nobody, it seems, is shocked anymore that in some neighborhoods the only way a kid knows of to escape the drug war is to be really, really good at making an orange ball go through an iron hoop.

Selby's story, then, isn't entirely unique. But it is not without nuance. Selby talks about the way the "old thugs and old hustlers" looked after him from a young age because of his athletic talent. What a chilling thing to think about, the thugs and hustlers playing guidance counselor and doling out, alternatively, hope for a bright future and damnation to the streets. Selby also talks of seeing a friend pistol-whipped nearly to death. He was 12.

These stories are meant to soften how Kansas fans, some of whom responded to Selby's departure with repulsive vitriol, feel about a kid they never really came to know. Seems reasonable to think that a majority of them have never seen the sort of violence described by Selby in anything other than an R-rated movie; and you aren't even supposed to watch those until you're 17.

College sports fans -- who seem to expect more from their players, morality-wise -- have long had a skewed vision of the enterprise they're so enamored with. While it's certainly true that many players do play for the glory of whatever school the represent, there are many students who see the whole endeavor as a business transaction. They see the "chance" to play in college as nothing but an exchange of their skills for some advanced coaching (though that is unreasonably restricted by NCAA rules), top-flight competition and, well, the spotlight. They adorn themselves in the colors and symbols of their teams not out of pride but because all of that stuff is part of the deal.

That Selby turned out to be this sort of mercenary should surprise no one. Watch:

 

Perhaps Kansas fans had convinced themselves that Selby was indeed joking. Or that his pedestrian numbers -- 7.9 points and 2.2 assists per game -- would convince him that he still has something to prove. Even some very wise scribes took that approach, including CBS' Gary Parrish and SI's Seth Davis. And yes, Selby's play in college will and should have a impact on his draft position. But so will his previous play, which earned him the No. 1 ranking from Rivals.com heading into college (he was No. 5 according to ESPN.com's rankings). NBA scouts were there watching Selby at the top summer camps when he was young. They know what they're getting: a tough, athletic guard who appears too small to play shooting guard but not skilled enough to be an elite point guard. They aren't going to judge him solely on a scandal- and injury-plagued year spent playing with two veteran big men (the Morris brothers). They know what sort of potential Selby has, and have for years. Now, they'll evaluate how likely he is to deliver on that potential through interviews and personal workouts, then decide if he's worth a pick (NBAdraft.net has him going 33rd to the Pistons).

That Kansas fans seemed so hurt by his decision proves that Selby must have some value. They like winning, and know he'd help with that. But the school is trading in currency that does Selby no good. Free tuition was never something he desired, no matter how much it might appeal to the rest of us. He's known since the thugs and hustlers dubbed him "Little Future" that he had a way out. To return to college would make not only a mockery of the university as a whole but of the the basketball program, as well. He'd only be abusing the system.

Bob Knight, who long ago decided that anything he says is brilliant, bold and brash (though only about 20 percent of it makes sense anymore), slammed the one-and-done era at a speech in Indiana over the weekend.  He erroneously accused Kentucky players of not attending class last spring (and after Kentucky issued a statement, Knight apologized; run to your bunkers, end is near) as he decried the shift in culture. But he also went on to admit that the system is the problem. By colluding with the NBA to prevent high school players from turning pro, the NCAA has given up the sanctity of its own game.  People like Selby and Kentucky coach John Calipari simply work within the lines. Selby had no better option, and Calipari -- who has one of the largest contracts in college athletics -- knows that one-and-done players end up that way because they're good enough to do it. He needs to win.

In this situation, it's not guys on the street deciding how somebody's life might turn out. It's the NCAA trying to manipulate the best way for young players to turn pro while focusing not on the well-being of the "student-athletes" but on making sure that the best ones appear in their tournament -- which generates billions for member school -- for at least one year.

Exploitation isn't confined to the streets. 

Comments

And Exploitation certainly isn't confined just to College. Just ask the teachers down at Digital Harbor about the phenom named Crr that now attends Patterson. I will save you all the details and let you make up your own mind.

It is a misstatement on the order of Knight's to say that 'Calipari works within the lines.'
Such a thoughtless remark cheapens the fine points you were making about Selby.

I'm a Kansas fan who had hoped Josh Selby would stay another year, for a couple of reasons. One, of course, is that I feel he could help us next season a lot more than he was able to do this season. didn't really have an opportunity to improve on the court. It is not his fault that he had such a weak showing overall this year. Besides sitting out the first nine games and then getting injured and missing more games, he never really got back to 100% until the season was over. And even had he fully healed by late in the season, his lack of time on the court would have hindered more than helped the team. It's a shame. He seems to be a fine young man. I wish him well in his future.

...interesting....the reporter should have went into more detail why he kicked out, er, left John Carroll. Also missing was the reason DeMatha asked him to find another school. Seems they don't like it when players start driving Mercedes (as reported in an earlier national article).


Too small for the 2 and not gifted as a true 1. Hope he can knock out a Steve Francis like career and learn to save some of his earnings. I hope he proves many (including me) wrong.

This is all about making a quick buck. Unfortunately, in the society we live in today that is what it's all about. Kids are wasting scholarships and ruining their opportunities because of the thought of making quick money. All he had to do was stay one more year, develop as a player AND A PERSON, and then declare. He is too immature for the NBA. Who has their Mother tell their coach they don't wanna play for him no more?? I do want him to do well, i really do because he from here but in my opinion he's going about it all wrong. Another thing, idk if he understands NBA contracts, only LOTTERY PICKS get "big money" ,after that its a grind. It's sad how we don't appreciate things such as a free college education.

Don't tell me the tea baggers of Kansas are crying about a "boy" from the Hood has the nerve to leave their school. I am sure they really care about him and those of his neighborhood that they are willing to cut off funds that would help those in that neighborhood.

Dear anonymous,
Perhaps you should investigate a little more before you bash what kind of people live in Kansas. Read about Thomas Robinson and the scholarship that a lot of Kansas fans have donated very generously to for his younger sister. Maybe you shouldn't be so quick to judge people you don't know.

Nail on the head Steve...total character issues. You take the boy out of the hood...but not hood out of the boy....Groundhog Day......the movie

For every Kobe there are 10 Skip Wises. Hey anonymous, who are the blood suckers. Not the Kansas crowd. It's the Selby posse who can't wait to get a cut. Why are you so anxious for a guy who had modest performance measures in his first year at Kansas to try to make the big leap. The guy could easily disappear and won't get any special treatment in the pros. No coddling there just sycophants.

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