Years ago, when I started covering professional golf tournaments that were televised, one of the harder lessons I had to learn was when to do things the easy way. Meaning that for the final round, unless only two players are actually in contention and they’re both in the same pairing, you’re better off watching the action on television in the media tent rather than spending the afternoon running around the course.
Oh, I know that seems totally lazy. Racing from hole to hole trying to catch several players sounds more like you’re really working. But the reality of golf is that you can’t see everything of significance that’s happening at roughly the same time on various holes unless you ARE watching on television.
If you’re not, you might miss an important shot(s) and then need to have somebody who was watching it on TV explain it to you. So, like I said, sometimes the easiest thing to do isn’t just the easiest … it’s also the best. But it can be a bit hard to accept that.
And what does this have to do with anything? Well, it’s something that popped to mind in regard to player of the year voting in women’s hoops.
Many people would say the easiest thing to do is vote for one of the two superstars from UConn, which is 26-0 after a 76-60 victory at Oklahoma on Monday. And yes, that is the easiest thing to do. But it’s also the best.
Now, it’s really not my goal to try to persuade anyone. I’m just saying what I think. People will make up their own minds, and those who have ballots will decide for themselves. Nor am I trying to write in contradiction to my ESPN.com colleague Graham Hays, who made a case last week for Nebraska’s Kelsey Griffin.
The last thing I’d want to do is write about why someone shouldn’t vote for Griffin. However, if things stay as they have been and there are no injuries (please, please, please let there be no more injuries), then I will be voting for UConn’s Tina Charles.
Like I said, I’m not going to lobby against Griffin, who is on track to become the first Husker to be named Big 12 player of the year in women’s hoops and just the second from her school to be named a State Farm (formerly Kodak) All-American.
I love everything about the way Kelsey plays: her grit, her intense expression, the way she keeps her teammates accountable without ever undermining them, her passion for doing things the right way, the respect she shows opponents, how much more athletic she is than those who’ve underestimated her think she is. I’m not going to argue with anyone who wants to vote for her.
But … every time I’ve seen Charles this season – and, frankly, much of last season, too – I’ve felt like I’m looking at the most talented post player UConn’s ever had. That’s kind of like saying you think you’ve just seen Meryl Streep’s best performance.
Just when the rest of the world’s women’s hoops teams might have been hoping Lisa Leslie’s retirement could create some tiny ray of hope for the next World Championship and Olympics gold medals going to a country other than the United States, here comes Charles.
She can replace Leslie as Team USA’s centerpiece player inside. And while it’s not reasonable to expect Charles, at this age, to do everything as well as Leslie, I think she’s going to more than hold her own in her first opportunities to to play in the World Championship, which is later this year, and the Olympics, in 2012.
Is it “easy” to at least consider Maya Moore or Kelsey Griffin for player of the year? Sure, it is … but it’s even “easier” to go with Charles.
Incidentally, I don’t buy for a second the theory some have suggested: That if you took Moore or Charles away from this UConn team, it would still be cruising along undefeated, therefore the player of the year nod should go to someone who’s making an even greater impact for her team.
I don’t agree. Look at a game like Monday night. Do you really think UConn would have won that game without either Charles or Moore? So, yes, that leads us to the question of which of them to vote for as top player. This season, I keep coming back to who it seems to me has been “the hammer” – the force that just pounds and pounds and pounds opposing teams. I think Charles has been like a wrecking ball against a building … the ball is not going to stop swinging until the building goes down.
Three years ago, I made a case for Duke’s Lindsey Harding as player of the year. That was her senior year, in 2007, when the Blue Devils surprised people by going undefeated up until the ACC tournament and then had a No. 1 seed. I say “surprised” because it came the year after their national runner-up finish, after which they’d lost key players like Monique Currie to graduation.
To me, Harding was the “story” of that season – even before the story went badly with the missed free throws in the second-round loss to Rutgers. And so I was advocating her as player of the year over Tennessee’s Candace Parker, who was the “easy” choice.
Of course, Parker went on to win the national championship that year, so in retrospect, let’s face it: My advocacy of Harding, though it seemed to make sense at the time, doesn’t really hold up that well. By the same token, part of this whole “player of the year” issue is that for most of the awards, voting is done before the NCAA tournament or at least before the Final Four.
Anyway, I kept the e-mails I got about not picking Parker. That may seem odd, but usually when I make a controversial decision or write something that gets a lot of negative response, I do store those e-mails to allow me to go back and review what people had to say. Some of the responses were not really helpful constructive criticism – such as, “You are just plain NUTS!” – although for getting one’s point across forcefully with brevity, that’s hard to beat.
But what it came down to was that people who opposed what I was saying kept asking, “If you had to pick a player to start a team with right this second, who would you pick?”
And if the answer to that was “Candace Parker” – which it was _ and that player was having a great season – which she was _ and her team was very successful – which it was _ then why was I not going with the “easy” choice as player of the year? Did I have a airtight reason not to vote for Parker? No, I really didn’t.
I realize, though, that this year, you could ask that same question in regard to the UConn duo, and some people would say “Moore” and some would say “Charles” and some – like coach Geno Auriemma – would say, “I’m glad I don’t have to pick.”
I also know that it’s kind of human nature to sympathize with the underdog, or look to find the gem everyone else isn’t staring at. There’s nothing wrong with that. But …
To me, Charles is doing everything a player of her talent could do to dominate her competition. And her team has won 65 games in a row! If things stay as they are, to me, the “easy” thing – and the right thing – is that she is the player of the year.