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Lieberman: Successful defection of Kentucky’s Terrence Jones pinpoints irrelevance of college basketball in Oregon



Monday night, confetti littered the floor of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as one of the most unique national champions in the history of NCAA basketball claimed a spot among the recent greats. Journalists and fans alike marveled at the poise and single-mindedness displayed this season by Kentucky, a group of talented up-and-comers that managed to mold itself into a dominant force despite limited experience and steep time constraints.

Undoubtedly, the foundation of the team was freshman center Anthony Davis, a once-in-a-generation talent that wreaks havoc on both sides of the floor. But as I watched the Wildcats celebrate in jubilation, my focus was centered on another standout underclassman: swingman Terrence [email protected]@he’s NOT A [email protected]@

As a Portland native, my eyes have been trained on Jones during all of March Madness. He attended high school only a short distance from where I live, and I remember his recruitment as if it was yesterday (it was only a couple years ago, after all). Jones was a McDonald’s All-American and prized recruit. His allegiances appeared to lie with Pacific-12 Conference power Washington, until a last-minute change of heart saw Jones commit to one of the most maligned coaches in the country. As you know, that man was none other than Mr. John Calipari, who in the eyes of critical media has transformed from scapegoat to celebrated motivator in a matter of weeks. @@http://www.ukathletics.com/sports/m-baskbl/mtt/[email protected]@

College basketball fans in the Northwest were outraged with Jones’ shift. How could he spur his native land for Big Blue Nation? Even worst, how could he abandon another blue-chip recruit — former high school teammate Terrence Ross — in the process? @@http://www.gohuskies.com/sports/m-baskbl/mtt/[email protected]@

Upon hearing the news, I was a bit disappointed, mostly because I likely wouldn’t get to see Jones take the court with my own eyes. But when I put myself in his position, it was a hard place to blame for the disloyalty. Kentucky was producing NBA lottery picks like it was going out of fashion. Washington? It has seen a share of prominent players over the years (Brandon Roy, Spencer Hawes, Nate Robinson), but largely remains out of the public view. Blame West Coast bias or an increasingly weak Pac-12, but in reality, Washington couldn’t even dream of standing toe-to-toe with Kentucky.

And it wasn’t like Jones’ decision was unprecedented. In recent years, Oregonians have watched a plethora of homegrown talent — Kevin Love and Kyle Singler are the most poignant examples — leave the state for greener pastures. When Love returned to McArthur Court as a member of UCLA, we all remember how he and his family were treated. In short, locals were less than pleased that a top-notch player had overlooked nearby destinations in order to increase his likelihood to excel, both as a college player and as an NBA prospect.

To be honest, such a perspective is immature, shortsighted and self-absorbed. Put yourself in the shoes of Love or Singler. Why join a less-talented program with limited historical success and prestige when better opportunities beckon? I understand that some fans profess that stars should display an undying dedication to their hometown. But when you recognize that these players are making a momentous decision that has a long-lasting effect on their basketball fate and future income, can you blame them for making the safer call?

This year, both Oregon and Oregon State exceeded expectations while remaining competitive in a laughingly inept Pac-12. But unless either program — or both — turns the tide dramatically in the next couple years, I don’t expect elite prospects from the West Coast to give either school a second look. After all, if the Ducks and Beavers can’t even get their hands on players such as Love and Singler, how can they expect to lure recruits away from more storied (and sunnier) campuses?

Last year, Jabari Brown hammered that point home. A five-star recruit out of the Bay Area, Brown’s surprise commitment to Oregon — coupled with the presence of the ridiculously luxurious Matthew Knight Arena and new head coach Dana Altman — seemingly solidified the Ducks’ status as a rising power. But a mere two games into his Oregon career, Brown wanted out. Nobody knows what factors sway the seemingly spontaneous decisions of 17- and 18-year-old young men, but a program devoid of eye-opening talent or an impressive resume doesn’t tend to get the benefit of the doubt. @@http://rivals.yahoo.com/basketballrecruiting/basketball/recruiting/[email protected]@

Of course, we all know Oregon has one thing going for it: the swoosh. But the sexiness of Nike’s support seems to be limited to the gridiron, at least for now. Before basketball can follow football’s blueprint of attracting nationwide talent with the backing of a unique culture, they need to take care of business in their own backyard.

As Terrence Jones reveled in the spotlight on the biggest stage, I tried to imagine what he could have done in green and yellow. Even hypothetically, it was hard to envision. If Oregon can take the steps necessary to master its own domain, we may see elite talent sooner than later. But without a signature player or undeniable draw, I’m not confident that will happen in our lifetimes.


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David Lieberman

David Lieberman