Lack of Loren leads to NBA lessons

I went to my first NBA game since Charles Barkley wore a Suns uniform. With free tickets in hand, we made the trek up I-10 to see the Suns and the Heat duke it out at America West Arena. As many know, I am not the NBA fan I once was. I still read box scores and watch a few playoff games, but my passion for the NBA died out about the time all my favorite players from the 80's became coaches and commentators. Tonight the tickets were free and I had a chance to see a former Wildcat in action.

Loren Woods' NBA career is getting second life with the Heat. The former UA big man is getting quality minutes in Miami after spending two less than productive years in Minnesota. In a bit of irony, Woods was no longer needed in the Twin Cities after the drafting of Wildcat signee Ndudi Ebi.

I always liked Woods. He had his troubles on the court but was always a gracious and quotable interview. Our relationship was merely his quotes to my tape recorder, but he seemed like a nice enough guy and for the most part represented the University well.

We got to our seats, which were excellent thanks to pops' ties to a food vendor at the restaurant he runs, and settled in for our first view of live NBA basketball in the 2000's. My dad was always a guy who also liked Woods, so we were both anxious to see how the Cats' last seven-footer would fare.

It didn't take long to see him. The Heat started Brian Grant and Udonis Haslem, but both Woods and Samaki Walker entered the game in the first quarter. Woods, now with shaved head, made his impact felt immediately. He ripped down a defensive rebound and quickly got the ball up court. On the Heat's first possession of the second quarter there was a nasty collision under the basket and Woods went down hard. He spent a few minutes face down on the court and was soon helped off by a trainer and immediately escorted to the locker room.

Later I learned that he bruised his back and his status is now unknown. My whole Loren Woods experience came down to two minutes played and one rebound. Fortunately I was there as a fan and not as a journalist, so I could still enjoy myself and watch the game even without Woods.

I learned several things from the experience.

The Suns are what is wrong with the NBA. They are a team full of wonderful athletes who settle for ill-advised jumpshot. Even worse, they really aren't good shooters. The Suns have players like Shawn Marion, Stephon Marbury and Amare Stoudemire, yet I had to watch Scott Williams take eight jump shots.

In addition to wasted athleticism, the Suns are built with journeymen, high schoolers and foreigners. Of the five players on the roster that the Suns drafted, just two went to college.

The typical conversation between my dad and I went like this:

Dad: "Where did that guy go to school?"
Me: "He didn't."

Dad: "Where'd we get that guy?"
Me: "Brazil."
Dad: "I thought they played soccer in Brazil."

Dad: "Where's Casey Jacobsen?"
Me: "On the bench. He doesn't play much."
Dad: "Why, he was so good in college."
Me: "That doesn't matter in the NBA."

I learned a lot more over the course of the night. I learned that there is a lack of quality big men in the NBA. Other than Stoudemire, the post players in the game were Grant, Walker, Haslem, Woods, Jake Voskuhl, Williams, Tom Gugliotta and Zarko Cabarkapa. Not exactly the most storied group. Of the eight, only Gugliotta ever played in an All-Star game (I think) and that was like ten trips to the injured list ago.

Speaking of Cabarkapa, the guy needs to follow Nene Hilario's lead amd change his name to just plain Zarko. Hilario, excuse me, Nene, legally changed his name so that he could follow the tradition of other Brazilian athletes and go by just one name. The NBA only allows its players to use their last name on a jersey, so Nene simply got rid of his last name. He actually appears as Nene on the All-Star ballot.

Zarko needs to do the same. Not to honor his country or to move merchandise, but to help us ignorant Americans understand the PA announcer. Whoever was announcing the game made it sound like his name was CharcoalCharcoalCharcoalba. I know that is not even close to his name, but that's what it sounded like the guy was saying. By simply changing it to Zarko he not only helps PA announcers, but he suddenly sounds like a sci-fi supervillian.

I also learned that Samaki is Greek for "journeyman".

I got to watch Lamar Odom score 24 points and you have to wonder how good this guy could be if he could stay away from the green stuff.

The refs called three traveling violations. I'm not sure there were three traveling violations called from 1982-1987.

Eddie Jones scored 22, and to be honest, I had forgotten he existed. He may be one of the best NBA players no one remembers.

Duane Wade is good. He outscored Marbury 27-11, going head to head much of the game. To his credit, Marbury played a marvelous game at point guard. He dished 10 assists and did not rush a shot. He took just 10 shots, when you know he could have launched 30. He hit the big shots when he needed to and found the open man over and over.

It's tough to watch Gugliotta. He was very good back in the day. But after years of injury, he's a shadow of the player he once was.

Speaking of shadows, it sure is weird to see Penny Hardaway come off the bench as a role player. If there was one-guy who seemed like a can't miss, sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, it was Penny.

Joe Johnson is frustrating. One minute he appears to be a bust, then he'll knock down four-in-a-row, before disappearing for a whole quarter. Knowing the Suns luck he'll blow up only after they trade him.

In the end I learned that I still prefer the college game. Say what you want about the McKale crowd, but the only time the America West crowd came close to having the same energy was when the Gorilla was shooting T-shirts into the crowd. I had fun, but watching the Wildcats pummel Team Nike was more fun.

Bring on NAU.

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