The Big Man In The Middle
It was the classic showdown last night–Duke vs. North Carolina. No, they weren’t playing one another, but they were playing games that were in direct opposition to one another on the television schedule, and I needed to decide which one to watch. There were lots of clear advantages to watching Duke–I’m more familiar with the Blue Devils, and would therefore have to think less while watching them, they were on an HD channel, and their opponent, Temple, while not stellar, was a bigger name than UNC-Asheville, the Tar Heels’ foe. At the end of the day, though, I ended up going with North Carolina on the grainy ESPNU feed. It had nothing to do with the Tar Heels’ unbeaten record, athleticism, or the fact that Chapel Hill is one heck of a great place to visit. No, it was basically due to my reading beforehand that UNC-Asheville had a player that’s 7'7". And let’s be honest–I’m not going to miss something that amusing.
My thoughts on 7'7" Kenny George? Here you go:
1) I questioned George’s value when he started off his night with a turnaround half-hook shot that was unblockable, but also undeniably ugly and had no chance of going in. I stopped questioning his value a few offensive plays later, one of George’s teammates drove to the side of the lane, randomly tossed the ball up in the air in George’s general direction, and the big guy caught it and slammed the ball home. Yep, with a guy that big, you don’t need to pass it to him, you just need to toss it up in the air so that no one else can get to it. As one of the announcers noted as he repeatedly dunked the ball–there’s a reason why he’s shooting 70% from the field.
2) Piggybacking on that last point, there's going to be a lot of people out there complaining about George's lack of basketball skill. To that I say, so what? I've heard the same thing for years about Shaq--that he lacks skill, and that all he does is overpower people and dunk on them. Well, at the end of the day, he's still scored on you. Does it really matter if he used a Sikma move on you?
3) George was also obviously a presence on the defensive end. When Tyler Hansbrough, one of the most aggressive and intense guys in the country won’t even think about taking the ball at a guy, you know that something’s going on.
4) Physically, it has to be painful to be Kenny George. The human body simply wasn’t made to be that big (a fact my high school physics teacher once noted in reference to Andre the Giant–yep, some things stick with you from high school), and it was readily apparent that for George, running up and down the floor looked excruciating at times. He required frequent rest periods, and vertical leap appeared to be about 3 inches, too, but I suppose that’s not much of an issue when you’re 7'7". I’ll say this, though–while George is physically limited in terms of how much he can play, and the things he’s capable of while on the floor, the Bulldogs certainly use him in the right way.
5) I was trying to describe George to a friend who hadn’t watched the game, and the best comparison that I could come up with on the fly was that it would be like me (I’m 6'3", for the record) playing with a bunch of 4th graders on an eight and a half foot hoop. I think this comparison generally works in terms of dimensions–the hoop would be 3" easier for me to reach than George, and I’d be roughly 8" taller than a fairly big 4th grader. The only problem would be simulating the difference in skill and athletic ability between George and his opponents. So I’d like to amend my original comparison to say that watching Kenny George play basketball would be like me playing in a game featuring a team of really good 4th graders (painful as this is to admit, I know there are plenty of 4th graders with better skills than me) while I was wearing a 50-pound weight vest (limited as my athletic skills are, 4th graders aren’t men yet, so I need something to diminish me even more, to a George-like leve).
So in summary, George’s game is severely limited, but he’s still pretty darn useful whenever he’s out on the floor. If you read the article above, I’m happy to say that Kenny George seems at peace with his extreme size. Given the physical and emotional difficulties that being that much bigger than average people must cause, he’s got a remarkably good attitude. Here’s hoping that he finds a way to parlay basketball, or something else that he enjoys, into making a boatload of money. He’s going to need it, since buying clothes for a 7'7" guy can’t be all that cheap.
Illinois-Wisconsin tonight, so I should have some more thoughts tomorrow...